Fort Worth Symphony Musicians Strike

Adaptistration People 179The 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.

Learn more about musician overscale.

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.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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