Philadelphia Orchestra approves 1-year contract with musicians

After almost six months of negotiations, the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra has ratified a new labor contract hammered out between musicians and management last week.

It gives the musicians a small raise, falling short of what they had been promised, pre-bankruptcy.

When the orchestra filed for Chapter 11 in 2011, the musicians agreed to a reduction in salary and a hiring freeze. This new agreement gives them a 3 percent raise, edging them closer to where, in a perfect world, they would have already been.

“The amount is actually higher then they have ever been paid before, on a weekly basis,” said vice president Ryan Fleur, who led management’s negotiating team. “It’s not what was agreed contractually in the late 2000s, but that’s where we are right now.”

The musicians contend that the orchestra is at risk of losing its best players to better-paying orchestras around the country, some of which pay 10 to 20 percent more than the Philadelphia Orchestra. They also negotiated one additional hire, a 96th musician, still nine short of a full orchestra.

Nevertheless, they accepted the contract in order to keep playing. The contract is very brief — just one year — so negotiations are effectively paused, not over.

“In order to continue making music for our public, and to continue the artistic excellence we have been achieving under our dynamic music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, we have decided against a work stoppage,” wrote the musicians in a statement. “We hope that, for all of our sakes, the picture will be much better a year from now.”

The deal through next September pushes the musicians’ base salary to $2,472 per week.

The orchestra is still engaged in a five-year recovery plan to put the bankruptcy behind, having raised $70 million in post-bankruptcy transitional funding. It also hopes to raise enough money to maintain a $100 million endowment.

Fleur is confident that musicians will stay with the organization for reasons other than money.

“The musical product is truly fantastic, which doesn’t always happen in other places around the country,” said Fleur. “Now, the talent of our musicians is priceless, but we can only pay what we can afford. Other institutions believe that can afford more than we are paying. But we have to answer for what we can do in Philadelphia.”

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