The musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) initiated a work stoppage by calling a strike at 1:30pm ET on Thursday, 9/8/2016. According to the official press release from the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local which represents the musicians, AFM Local 72-147, the strike was called following that morning’s rehearsal.
An article by Michael Granberry in the 9/8/2016 edition of the Dallas Morning news reports that the strike was called after the employer presented a last, best, and final offer that was identical to the one musicians voted down on Sunday, 9/4/2016. Although the employer presented a few of the rejected terms in a statement to the newspaper, one in particular stands out as an oddity.
“We presented a fair proposal that at the end of four years would result in a principal player receiving an annual salary of $71,097 for 44 weeks of employment…”
Although it is not unusual for employers to present compensation figures in the most flattering light possible, it is highly unusual to use a principal musician salary. Although some orchestra collective bargaining agreements (CBA) do contain minimum overscale amounts for principal musicians, the vast majority at the FWSO’s budget size on up negotiate final compensation terms for principals on a musician by musician basis. But even then, that depends on the employer’s willingness as individual overscale is not rarely required.
On average, 15 percent of musicians qualify for principal salary so presenting it in the context of musician annual compensation risks coming across as a disingenuous claim. For example, during the 2014/15 season, the guaranteed annual salary for musicians, which serves as the starting point for the majority of musician employees, was $54,954 or just over 20 percent less than the figure the employer presented.
According to the musicians’ statement, the strike also appears to be motivated in part by the employer’s decision to implement the recently rejected agreement on Monday, 9/12/2016.
Management also announced that this final offer would be implemented on Monday, a clear signal that management’s intention was to irresponsibly cease talks.
For now, the FWSO is maintaining that musician demands are something they simply can’t afford while musicians assert that the organization has been underperforming in unearned revenue development. Although the dispute has yet to reach this point, it is not unusual to see disagreements on these points evolve into a referendum on an orchestra’s executive leadership; specifically, the President and CEO along with board officers and executive committee members.
Historically, strikes tend to settle within the first several days following the initial cancelled concert event. If that fails to transpire, expect to see both sides dig in for the long haul. Fortunately, it isn’t unusual to see both sides emerge from trenches and reach an agreement thanks in large part to efforts from third party mediators. At the same time, if any sort of effort along those lines fails to produce an agreement, resolution typically arrives on the heels of one side capitulating to most, if not all, of the other stakeholder’s demands.