Philadelphia Orchestra musicians approve contract, averting potential strike

Philadelphia orchestra
In a deal announced Saturday night, Oct. 21, 2023, musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra Association have ratified a collective bargaining agreement calling for minimum salaries to increase by 15.8% over three years.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily via AP, File

Philadelphia Orchestra musicians and management have approved a three-year contract, avoiding a strike as the ensemble emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

The collective bargaining agreement, announced Saturday night, boosts minimum salaries by 15.8% for members of Local 77 of the American Federation of Musicians. It is retroactive to Sept. 11 and will expire in September 2026.

Increases in the deal include 6% in the first year, 4.5% in the second and 4.5% in the third. The agreement replaces a four-year contract that expired Sept. 10.

Musicians authorized a strike in August and previously rejected two offers from management, referred to as the Philadelphia Orchestra Association. Federal mediators assisted the negotiations.

David Fay, a double bass player in the orchestra since 1984 and a member of the union negotiating committee, said the agreement represented the largest base salary increase “in recent memory.”

“We are an ensemble, and we stuck together and refused to accept substandard deal after substandard deal,” Fay added, in a statement. “This contract is a victory for the present and future for the Philadelphia Orchestra and its world-class musicians.”

The orchestra opened its season without a contract Sept. 28 at the Kimmel Center, in a performance with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

“Following the unprecedented disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, our joint challenge was to find a new and financially responsible path forward,” Ralph W. Muller and Michael D. Zisman, co-chairs of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center Inc., said in a statement.

Base salary in 2022-23 was $152,256, including electronic media agreement wages. Each musician received a supplemental payment of $750 or $1,500 in each year of the contract, the union said.

Though a substantial wage for the average Philadelphian, musicians and Local 77 representatives had argued that the orchestra needed better pay to remain competitive with the top ensembles in the country.

“This contract begins to make the necessary investments in the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra in order to preserve its place as one of the world’s best symphony orchestras,” Local 77 President Ellen Trainer said in a statement.

The union said the deal requires management to increase the number of musicians hired each year and to ensure the contractual level of 105 musicians and two librarians is met. Substitute and extra musicians will earn 100% of what full-time musicians earn by the third year of service and ensure payment if their engagements are canceled with less than two weeks’ notice.

The deal eliminates a lower rate of overtime for playing movies and calls for two days of rest after most Sunday concerts.

The orchestra filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and emerged a year later. Musicians struck on Sept. 30, 2016, causing cancellation of that season’s opening night, then announced an agreement two days later. In 2021, the orchestra and Kimmel Center merged.

Associated Press contributed to this article.