Fort Worth — After years of negotiations, pay cuts and the threat of more pay cuts in the face of a $700,000 budget deficit, the Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and representatives from the American Federation of Musicians Local 72-147 are officially on strike this weekend at Bass Performance Hall in downtown Fort Worth. That means this weekend's opening symphonic concert, featuring violinist James Ehnes, has been canceled. According to the FWSO's website, no other concerts are canceled at this point.
That's a concern for the Texas Ballet Theater, too, which opens its season in Dallas next weekend (Sept. 16-18) with the FWSO scheduled to accompany performances of Carlos Acosta's Carmen and Christopher Wheeldon's Danse à grand vitesse. The latest update from the ballet is that they will use the Symphony Musicians of Fort Worth (most of the FWSO musicians) and will still be conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya.
Below this video from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is the official statement from the musicians union, and below that is a timeline of events and background from the Fort Worth Symphony, with new rebuttals from the Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony, with a list of sources.
We'll keep you posted on the strike.
Statement from Stewart Williams, President, American Federation of Musicians Local 72-147
Sept. 8, 2016: As of 12:30 today, after the second rehearsal for the opening Subscription concert of the 2016-17 Season, the Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) and their representatives from the American Federation of Musicians Local 72-147, have officially called a strike.
Management issued its last, best and final offer yesterday morning when musicians met to resume negotiations. The musicians had come with plans to bargain, but were met with the same exact offer which the musicians rejected four days ago. Management also announced that this final offer would be implemented on Monday, a clear signal that management’s intention was to irresponsibly cease talks.
In 2010 the musicians accepted a 13.5% cut to help face recessionary economic conditions. But today, Fort Worth is one of the most thriving and growing cities in the nation, and ticket sales are on the rise. Reducing the budget has already caused musicians to leave the orchestra at twice the rate of the previous decade, and musicians refuse to agree to more damaging cuts.
After years of cuts and irresponsibly refusing to bargain further, the future of the FWSO is now at stake. The Musicians continue to call on Management to return to the bargaining table in the interest of coming to an agreement and ensuring the orchestra’s very existence.
“We want our audiences and the citizens of Fort Worth to know how much we regret that we are forced to take this extreme step,” said bassist and member of the musicians’ negotiating committee, Julie Vinsant. “We call on our management to come back to the table so that we can continue providing great music for our great city. We are very thankful for your continuing steadfast support.”
Timeline of events and background information from the Fort Worth Symphony, with rebuttals from the Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony:
The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association, made up of the Board of Directors and Management Team, is steadfastly committed to operating the Orchestra in a fiscally responsible manner while assuring that Fort Worth remains home to a viable professional orchestra of the highest caliber. For many years, the Orchestra has been combating deficits caused by external factors beyond the organization’s control. For the current and future seasons, we project a deficit of nearly $700,000. Recognizing that the issue is acute, we are asking the musicians to help preserve the Orchestra’s future. (New: Rebutals from Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony are noted in RED below.)
What is the general disagreement?
FWSO: Since June 2015, the FWSO management and Union have been discussing the Orchestra’s precarious financial condition. Management maintains that the solution must be two-fold: new revenue generation and cost-cutting measures. Simply put, we must turn to our musicians for a portion of our solution.
What is being asked of the musicians?
FWSO: The FWSOA’s final offer is identical to what the Union tentatively agreed to on August 31. It calls for a four-year contract that incorporates a reduction in the number of paid weeks from 46 to 43 in the first two years of the contract, increasing to 44 paid weeks in years three and four. The terms would result in an approximate 6.5% reduction in annual pay in the first year with subsequent wage increases in years two, three and four. By the fourth year, musicians would earn approximately 3.5% more than their current wage, and principal players would be paid more than $70,000.
Musicians of the FWSO:
- Although the management states that the musicians would have a 3.5% increase in pay by 2019, that figure is actually 7.1% lower than the salary in 2010.
- Under management’s proposal it will cost 42% of a musician’s base salary to insure their family on the FWSO health plan. (Endnote 1)
- There are only 16 principal players (out of 67 salaried musicians) in the FWSO. (Endnote 2)
- Management’s proposal actually calls for a 7.5% pay cut in year one, if you factor in the increased cost of healthcare premiums.
- Musicians took a 13.5% pay cut in 2010 and a loss of paid weeks from 52 to 46, while still playing the same number of rehearsals and concerts. Now management wants the musicians to do the same work in 43 weeks.
- Since 2010, musicians are leaving the FWSO at twice the rate of the previous decade. More cuts, with no plan for growth, will ensure that the FWSO ceases to be a destination orchestra.
Why is the FWSO facing such serious financial challenges?
FWSO: Corporate giving is significantly down due to mergers, acquisitions, and changing giving priorities. Local government giving is a fraction of its previous levels. Revenue generated by the orchestra's endowment has been down for several years. The downturn in oil and gas has negatively impacted the level of philanthropic gifts. Meanwhile, expenses have been on the rise. Due to these factors, we anticipate a nearly $700,000 deficit for the 2016-17 season on a budget of $12 million.
Musicians of the FWSO:
- Local government giving represents less than 1% of the FWSOA budget. (Endnote 3)
- The Fort Worth Opera raised more than $1 million and doubled their donor base in 3 months. (Endnote 4)
- Other Texas cities, faced with the same state-wide economic challenges, have orchestras that are growing and thriving. In the last year alone, the Houston Symphony budget increased 12%, and the Dallas Symphony raised $32 million. (Endnotes 5 and 6)
- The Houston Grand Opera raised $16.8 million last year, $600,000 more than the previous year, despite the downturn in oil & gas. (Endnote 7)
- According to the Texas State Comptroller, oil and gas is only 14% of the Texas economy because of diversification efforts. (Endnote 8)
- The economy of the Fort Worth metro area has increased 32% since 2010, but the FWSO budget has shrunk from $13.1 million in 2009 to $11.9 million in 2015. (Endnotes 9 and 10)
- The FWSO hasn’t launched an endowment campaign since 2000. (Endnote 11) If it has been down for several years, why hasn’t there been an endowment campaign?
- In less than a year, the Buffalo Philharmonic has raised $23 million for its endowment. Detroit and Grand Rapids each recently raised $40 million for their endowments and Kansas City is nearing completion of a $55 million endowment campaign. (Endnotes 12, 13, 14)
Can financial needs be met with increased fundraising or other cuts?
FWSO: The FWSO actively pursues new sources of revenue. Our fundraising and marketing programs are working, but have yet to attain a level to achieve balanced budgets. Over the last two seasons, we achieved 17% growth in ticket sales and 10% growth in contributions from individuals. However, we must secure hundreds of thousands of new dollars, plus the musician concessions we are seeking, to achieve a balanced budget. We are also diligently working to control other costs. The administrative staff has endured layoffs, and contributions to the staff pension plan have been frozen since 2009.
Musicians of the FWSO:
- The nation’s top arts management firm advised the FWSOA to increase the fundraising (development) department to at least 5 positions. This department has had 2 to 4 members over the last 18 months. (Endnote 15)
- The FWSOA is searching for its 5th development director in 5 years, not counting the two additional development directors who left for personal reasons.
- Comparable orchestras have larger development departments: Kansas City Symphony – 7 members; Utah Symphony - 9; Nashville Symphony - 12. (Endnote 16)
- The FWSOA has no Strategic Plan past the year 2017. (Endnote 17)
- Orchestras of similar size spend an average of 8% of total budget on fundraising. The FWSO Management spends less than 4%. (Endnote 18)
- Management's actions show a one-fold solution: cutting musicians' salaries.
How much do musicians earn?
FWSO: The current minimum salary of an FWSO musician is $54,953, and the average salary of an FWSO musician is $60,564, not including overtime and other compensation such as seniority pay. Currently, musicians are paid for 46 weeks annually, which includes 42 days of paid leave and vacation, as well as many other benefits including generous sick leave and pension contributions.
Musicians of the FWSO:
- With the proposed cuts, the FWSO would rank 33rd in salary amongst the country’s top 50 orchestras. The FWSO musicians' salary would equate to the salary in 2003. (Endnote 19)
- Industry standard for vacation days is 6 weeks. The Dallas Symphony and Houston Symphony each have 9 weeks. (Endnote 20) Vacation days are actually “physical recovery days.” Without these days a musician risks serious injury from over playing.
- Seniority and overtime are negligible, totaling about $500 per year for only the most senior members of the orchestra. (Endnote 21)
- The cost to insure a family on the FWSO insurance plan is approximately $1750 per month.
Didn’t the musicians already take pay cuts?
FWSO: During the recession, the musicians accepted salary reductions in 2010, and the staff endured layoffs and pension freezes. Since that time, musicians have received increases in wages and benefits in 2012, 2014, and 2015 totaling approximately 5.5%.
Musicians of the FWSO:
- Musicians took a 13.5% pay cut in 2010 and a loss of paid weeks from 52 to 46. The musicians’ current salary is still 8.3% less than it was in 2010.
- Since 2010, musicians are leaving the FWSO at twice the rate of the previous decade.
- Management’s proposal would take a FWSO musician’s salary back to what they made 13 years ago (2003), $20,000 below the national average of the countries top 50 orchestras and $42,000 below what a Dallas Symphony musician makes. (Endnote 22)
How much of the FWSO’s annual budget supports musician salaries?
FWSO: Currently, 46% of the Orchestra's $12 million budget goes directly to musician salaries and benefits, a percentage much higher than the national average.
Musicians of the FWSO:
- This percentage has been increasing over the last few years simply because management has been shrinking its budget.
- The orchestras who spend around 33.5% of their budgets on musicians’ salaries include the Boston Symphony, with an $86 million budget, and the L.A. Philharmonic, with a $121 million budget. (Endnote 23)
- The average budget of the top 50 orchestras in the US is $36.4 million; the budget of the FWSO is $11.9 million. (Endnote 24)
Sources for Endnotes:
3. FWSO IRS Form 990 (2013), Part VIII, 1e
18. Chart of fundraising totals collected from ICSOM orchestras’ IRS Form 990s (chart available on request)