(PHILADELPHIA) — The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Musician’s Union unanimously rejected a new contract on Sept. 10 after management pulled the plug on negotiations days before.
The Philadelphia Orchestra Kimmel Center Inc.(POKC), the parent organization of the orchestra and the Academy of Music, the Miller Theater, and the Kimmel Center, is yet another artistic association being held accountable for the treatment of workers in a year marked by labor strikes.
According to a Facebook press release from the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 77, the Philadelphia musician’s union, the proposed contract did not meet its demands for retirement benefits, pension contributions, and protections for orchestra library workers. It also included a weaker parental leave policy than before the pandemic. Local 77 received a strike authorization on Sept. 11 and members have been publicizing their demands to the community outside POKC theaters on Broad Street this past week.
In response to the criticism of the contract, POKC cites financial recovery from its 2021 bankruptcy filings which resulted in a 20% pay cut to musicians and the removal of their benefits.
Holly Blake, a bassoonist for the orchestra, said that while many members are grateful to their management for maintaining their employment during the pandemic in spite of budget cuts, the current financial surplus of POKC of almost $17 million, thanks to the federal Paycheck Protection Program and government loans, makes this excuse unacceptable. “We, the musicians, feel that POKC should prioritize investing in the talent of the Philadelphia Orchestra,” Blake said.
“There’s been a disinvestment in the longevity of the orchestra from the Philadelphia Orchestra Management,” said Ellen Trainer, president of Local 77. “In order to maintain excellence and attract new world-class talent, you need to maintain a strong financial package, and we see that we have fallen behind our fellow orchestras.”
While the POKC assures that this is their “best and final offer,” Trainer told The Click that the union will not back down as other orchestras in the northeast have taken their management to task over labor negotiations and won. Trainer cites the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s August 2023 agreement for a three-year contract that protects wage growth as an example of what is possible.
When asked for a comment, Ashley Berke, communications manager for POKC, told The Click in a statement that while the organization is “disappointed” the musicians did not accept its offer, “We remain eager to bring this situation to a positive resolution that improves the livelihoods of the musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra within the economic realities of our organization.”