We’ve enjoyed an unusually long stretch of time where there wasn’t a labor dispute brewing but that seems to becoming rapidly to an end and the culprit this time around is the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO). With a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that expires Sunday, 9/4/2016 the group has yet to reach a new deal.
The PSO’s soon to expire agreement was a three-year term covering the 2013/14, 2014/15, and 2015/16 seasons and included a three percent increase in the final year. The prior agreement, which covered the 2011/12, 2012/13, and 2013/14 seasons garnered quite a bit of attention at the time as it was heralded within certain circles inside the field as an example of austerity driven cooperation that would produce sustainability.
In particular, the employer and musicians agreed to phase out the musicians’ defined benefit pension plan and implement a far less costly defined contribution plan for any new musician coming into the orchestra at that time along with any musicians having less than five years of service after 9/5/11.
Setting aside for a moment this produced two tiers of musicians with equal artistic responsibilities yet vastly different overall compensation packages (a dangerous environment of inequity even in the best of times), it appears that the organization failed to capitalize on turning that massive expense reduction into anticipated sustainability.
At least, that’s the picture being presented by the PSO in an article by Mark Kanny in the 8/29/16 edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune.
Kanny’s article reports the PSO is projecting a nearly five percent operating deficit for the 2016/17 season, although that number isn’t firm due to the lack of a CBA to define musician oriented expenses. On top of that, the PSO will be missing nearly that same amount in revenue thanks to losing a portion of a long standing fee based earned income stream and a long time angel donor.
If that weren’t enough, the PSO claims to have $10.4 million in unfunded pension obligations.
What’s particularly discouraging in the article is how all of the financials are being used in a very 1960’s era labor relations approach.
For example, the PSO’s President, Melia Tourangeau, was fine providing dire figures then took the passive-aggressive approach of declining to offer comments about the ongoing negotiations.
For now, the PSO musicians appear to be holding their cards close to their chests. Short of a group photo showing members wearing “Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony” t-shirts, their Facebook page is conspicuously empty of any traditional negotiation rhetoric (overt or passive).
This paints a stark contrast to the gloomy financial picture presented by Tourangeau in the Tribune article.
Hopefully, the Gloom-and-Doom 101 tacit is just that and isn’t a harbinger of something particularly ugly on the horizon.
But one item from the article worth pointing out is Tourangeau’s assertion that the PSO allocates far more of their annual expenses toward artistic expenses compared to “other major orchestras.”
Instead, [Tourangeau] asserted that 70 percent of Pittsburgh Symphony’s expenses are artistic and 30 percent administrative and for operating Heinz Hall. For most other major orchestras, the relationship is reversed.
If the situation continues to degrade, I’m looking forward to finding out more about that statement because on the surface it seems, at best, skeptical. There’s no indication in the article what expenses Tourangeau is classifying as “artistic” and “administrative” but according to figures the PSO musicians report to their national union, the American Federation of Musicians, the percent of expenses from the 2013-2014 season paid for all musicians is 48 percent. This figure excludes payments made to conductors and guest artist and includes salary, benefits, and related items such as electronic music guarantees, seniority, etc.
For a broader frame of reference, here are the percentages paid at other large budget orchestras from that same season:
- National Symphony 56.3 percent
- Philadelphia paid 48 percent
- Cleveland Orchestra 43 percent
- Detroit Symphony 42 percent
- New York Philharmonic 41 percent
- Dallas Symphony 37.04 percent
- Boston Symphony paid 35 percent
- Chicago Symphony 35 percent
- Minnesota Orchestra 34 percent
- Cincinnati Symphony 30.39 percent
So unless there are some profound differences in how both sides are reporting those figures, it will be interesting to see how everything unfolds.