Currently, two of the top eight orchestras with the highest base musician annual salary are negotiating new collective bargaining agreements: National Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra. Interestingly enough, both of these ensembles are in positions where the outcome of those negotiations will likely have a larger impact on their future competitiveness than some of the upcoming negotiations for their peers.
In order to visualize these distinctions, here’s a chart illustrating the current “Big Eight” base musician annual salaries from the 2009/10 season through those with agreements reaching out to the 2017/18 season.
Over the past few seasons, these groups have begun to solidify three distinct compensation tiers. Let’s tighten the chart up by setting the initial year to the 2014/15 season in order to get a better look.
- Tier 1: The CSO, LAPhil, and SFS comprise tier one although by the end of the 2017/18 season, the latter two have firmly pulled away from the CSO. It will be interesting to see if the CSO can catch up or if they become part of Tier 2.
- Tier 2: The BSO, NYPhil, and NSO comprise tier two although the former two ensembles have managed to stay well ahead of the NSO to a point where the latter organization will need to see the sort of leap-frog level increase SFS put into place between the 21014/15 and 2015/16 seasons in order to remain competitive in this tier.
- Their 3: The Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras are both firmly entrenched in the bottom tier. Cleveland Orchestra currently maintains one of the longer agreements and their planned increases nearly parallel those at the very top of the pay scale. Having said that, the gap is slowly growing. During the 2014/15 season, there was a $28,446 difference between Cleveland and LA Phil and that gap increases a bit to $31,304 in the 2017/18 season. The only difference is the top spot will be occupied by San Francisco unless LA Phil manages to edge them out when they negotiate an agreement to replace the one expiring at the end of the 2016/17 season.
National Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra At The Crossroads
Based on what has been reported via the Philadelphia Orchestra negotiations, it seems as though the employer will be satisfied with a new agreement that not only keeps the orchestra in Tier 3 but continue to maintain lowest base musician annual compensation of the entire group.
The NSO is intriguing in a different way due to being in a unique position with three potential outcomes: close their existing gap, parallel NY Phil and BSO compensation levels, or fall back into Tier 3.
In order to see just how close of margins exist, take a look at the existing compensation gaps with their nearest neighbors.
During the 2015/16 season, NSO base musician annual salary was $4,500 below NY Phil and $11,000 above Cleveland Orchestra. However, if their new agreement produces something as seemingly innocuous as a wage freeze, they will be a marginally equal distance between those groups ($8,300 from NYP and $7,455 from Cleveland). If the new agreement contains any concessions, they would move back down to Tier 3 territory.