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Will Fort Worth Symphony Musicians Perform This Weekend?

by Anne Bothwell 6 Sep 2016 11:19 PM

The strike’s authorized, but musicians haven’t said whether they’ll walk out on the season opener.


UPDATE 6:30 p.m. 9/7: Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra musicians and management met today… After musicians voted last night to authorize a strike. The musicians union released a statement saying they were given a final contract offer from management – and that it’s identical to the offer they rejected last time.

The proposed contract calls for a 6.5 percent pay cut the first year…with pay increases in future years. In its own statement, Symphony management says it can’t pay what the musicians are asking for. The symphony’s trying to close a deficit of 700-thousand dollars, but the musicians say they’ve already taken enough pay cuts. The union still has not yet said when, or if, they’ll walk off the job.


The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra is supposed to open its season Friday. It’s not clear though, whether musicians will show up to play Dvorak’s “New World Symphony”.

Symphony management and the musicians union have been negotiating the musicians’ contract for over a year. A federal mediator helped the two sides draft a tentative agreement last week. But the musicians rejected that agreement and Tuesday night, they voted to authorize a strike.

“The FWSO is extremely disappointed and surprised that the musicians rejected that agreement and voted tonight to authorize a strike that benefits no one,” said symphony management in a statement released Tuesday night.

The union has not yet said when, or if, they will walk off the job. So Symphony management does not know how to advise ticketholders.

Management says the symphony faces a $700,000  budget deficit this season and wants the musicians to take pay cuts to help address the shortfall. The musicians union says they’ve taken previous pay cuts and the symphony should find the money somewhere else.

“In 2010 the musicians accepted a 13.5% cut to help face recessionary economic conditions. But today, Fort Worth is one of the most thriving and growing cities in the nation, ticket sales are on the rise and the orchestra is consistently garnering positive reviews,” union reps said in a  statement released late Tuesday. “There must be a plan for growth, and the FWSO does not currently have a strategic plan beyond 2017.”

The two sides will meet again Wednesday morning. The union requested the meeting. Management says they hope to resolve the situation, but the symphony has reached its financial limit.

Releases from both parties below:

Musicians Vote Overwhelmingly to Authorize Strike After Rejecting Offer From Management


Tonight Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) musicians voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, after rejecting a concessionary offer from the management.

With this vote, a strike can be called at any time.

After 14 months of nearly continuous negotiations and 4 days with a federal mediator, the musician’s negotiating team reached a tentative agreement as a last ditch effort to reach an agreement with management. But the musicians overwhelmingly rejected management’s offer refusing to accept more cuts to their beloved orchestra.

In 2010 the musicians accepted a 13.5% cut to help face recessionary economic conditions. But today, Fort Worth is one of the most thriving and growing cities in the nation, ticket sales are on the rise and the orchestra is consistently garnering positive reviews. Reducing the budget has already caused musicians to leave the orchestra at twice the rate of the previous decade, and musicians refuse to agree to more damaging cuts. There must be a plan for growth, and the FWSO does not currently have a strategic plan beyond 2017.

“Our serious decision to provide authorization for a strike is about more than wages and benefits” said FWSO Cellist and Negotiation Committee Member Shelley Jessup, “It is about the future of the orchestra. Fort Worth is a proud destination city and should have a destination orchestra. The cuts we have seen since 2010 threaten to undo all the work that donors, musicians and citizens have done over the last 100 years to build the FWSO into the world class orchestra our city deserves.”

On Sunday the musicians called on management to resume talks immediately, and offered to meet on Labor Day. Management has not agreed to return to the bargaining table until Wednesday morning.


Statement from the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association

Sept. 6, 2016

An agreement was reached last week between the Musicians’ Union bargaining team, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and an independent federal mediator on a tentative new labor contract. It was a fair and reasonable agreement in light of the circumstances. The agreement would have allowed the FWSO to continue operations and provided a pathway for growth.

The FWSO is extremely disappointed and surprised that the musicians rejected that agreement and voted tonight to authorize a strike that benefits no one.

The tentative contract was reached after lengthy negotiations and in good faith, and both sides made concessions. To be clear, the FWSO does not want a work stoppage, but it also has an obligation to operate the orchestra in a fiscally responsible manner. We cannot allow a threat from the union to coerce us into fiscal irresponsibility.

The 2016-2017 Symphonic Series is scheduled to start later this week. It is presently unknown if the musicians will actually strike, and if they do, they have not disclosed the date of the strike. Once the musicians determine and disclose their course of action, the FWSO will communicate our plans to patrons and ticketholders.

At the union’s request, the FWSO has agreed to meet again at the bargaining table. Our goal is to resolve the situation; however, we have informed union leadership that we have reached our financial limits.


Background and FAQ Regarding Negotiations

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association, made up of the Board of Directors and Management Team, is steadfastly committed to operating the Orchestra in a fiscally responsible manner while assuring that Fort Worth remains home to a viable professional orchestra of the highest caliber. For many years, the Orchestra has been combating deficits caused by external factors beyond the organization’s control. For the current and future seasons, we project a deficit of nearly $700,000. Recognizing that the issue is acute, we are asking the musicians to help preserve the Orchestra’s future.

What is the general disagreement?

Since June 2015, the FWSO management and Union have been discussing the Orchestra’s precarious financial condition. Management maintains that the solution must be two-fold: new revenue generation and cost-cutting measures. Simply put, we must turn to our musicians for a portion of our solution by seeking a reduction in musician compensation and benefits while simultaneously raising additional revenue.

What is being asked of the musicians?

The tentative agreement that was reached between the parties on August 31 was a four-year contract proposal that incorporated a reduction in the number of paid weeks from 46 to 43 in the first two years of the contract, increasing to 44 paid weeks in years three and four. The terms of the new agreement would have resulted in an approximate 6.5% reduction in annual pay in the first year with subsequent wage increases in years two through four. By the fourth year, musicians would earn 3.5% more than their current wage, and principal players would have been paid more than $70,000.

Why is the FWSO facing such serious financial challenges?

Corporate giving is significantly down due to mergers, acquisitions, and changing giving priorities. Local government giving is a fraction of its previous levels. Revenue generated by the orchestra’s endowment has been down for several years. The downturn in oil and gas has negatively impacted the level of philanthropic gifts. Meanwhile, expenses have been on the rise. Due to these factors, we anticipate a nearly $700,000 deficit for the 2016-17 season on a budget of $12 million.

Can financial needs be met with increased fundraising or other cuts?

The FWSO actively pursues new sources of revenue. Our fundraising and marketing programs are working, but have yet to attain a level to achieve balanced budgets. Over the last two seasons, we achieved 17% growth in ticket sales and 10% growth in contributions from individuals. However, we must secure hundreds of thousands of new dollars, plus the musician concessions we are seeking, to achieve a balanced budget. We are also diligently working to control other costs. The administrative staff has endured layoffs, and contributions to the staff pension plan have been frozen since 2009.

How much do musicians earn?

The current minimum salary of an FWSO musician is $54,953, and the average salary of an FWSO musician is $60,564, not including overtime and other compensation such as seniority pay. Currently, musicians are paid for 46 weeks annually, which includes 42 days of paid leave and vacation, as well as many other benefits including generous sick leave and pension contributions.

Didn’t the musicians already take pay cuts?

During the recession, the musicians accepted salary reductions in 2010, and the staff endured layoffs and pension freezes. Since that time, musicians have received increases in wages and benefits in 2012, 2014, and 2015 totaling approximately 5.5%.

How much of the FWSO’s annual budget supports musician salaries?

Currently, 46% of the Orchestra’s $12 million budget goes directly to musician salaries and benefits, a percentage much higher than the national average.