August 20, 2023
Musicians in the Philadelphia Orchestra are set to go on strike if contract negotiations don't pan out. Ninety-five percent of players in the orchestra voted to authorize the strike on Saturday, according to a press release.
Philadelphia Musicians' Union Local 77, which represents the Philadelphia Orchestra, is currently in negotiations with the Philadelphia Orchestra Kimmel Center, Inc (POKC) in an effort to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The musicians' current contract expires on September 10.
The orchestra is not on strike yet, but in the event that those negotiations break down or end without reaching a collective bargaining agreement, the musicians of the historic orchestra are prepared to stop performing in protest until an agreement is reached. With the deadline for a new contract approaching, the musicians' union is hoping to secure an agreement that includes better pay, leave and retirement benefits, fair pay for freelance musicians, stronger protections for orchestra librarians and the filling of 15 orchestra seats that are currently vacant.
“The musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra have declared that enough is enough," said Philadelphia Musicians' Union Local 77 president Ellen Trainer in a statement. "The POKC can no longer refuse to prioritize the musicians that make Philadelphia’s orchestra the best in the world. The Union has proposed a fair and equitable contract that ensures economic dignity and respect for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s musicians and freelance musicians who help to maintain the Orchestra’s sound."
So far, the union says that POKC has not sufficiently addressed its demands. Philadelphia Orchestra members say that they are not paid as well as the musicians in comparable American orchestras, nor are their retirement benefits as generous. Among the musicians' complaints are that orchestra players each took a pay cut of at least $50,000 during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the fact that the Orchestra recieved nearly $30 million in federal and state funds during the pandemic.
The Philadelphia Orchestra was founded in 1900 and is considered one of the "big five" symphony orchestras in the United States. After spending its first 101 years playing at the Academy of Music, the Philadelphia Orchestra moved to the Kimmel Center as its primary venue in 2001.
In April, the Philly Pops filed an antitrust lawsuit against the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Kimmel Center, claiming that the pop orchestra was unfairly evicted the from Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center earlier this year. In June, the Philly Pops added to its grievances, saying that the Philadelphia Orchestra used its propriety email subscription list for its own marketing purposes.