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October 01, 2023

Philadelphia Orchestra musicians reject latest contract proposal, citing inadequate pay increases

Members of Philadelphia Musicians' Local 77 accused management of unfair labor practices and said a proposed salary increase was not enough to keep up with inflation.

Music Philadelphia Orchestra
philadelphia-orchestra-contract.jpg COURTESY/PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA

Musicians in the Philadelphia Orchestra voted to reject the latest contract proposal from the orchestra's management, saying that the pay raise offered in it was not enough to account for inflation or compete with the salaries of comparably-sized orchestras.

Just 48 hours after playing the first notes of the 2023 - 2024 season, the Philadelphia Orchestra inched one step closer to going silent this weekend. Members of Philadelphia Musicians' Union Local 77, the labor group that represents the orchestra's players, voted 81-9 against a contract proposal put forward by management due to insufficient pay increases.

The latest contract proposed by Philadelphia Orchestra Kimmel Center, Inc. offered orchestra musicians an average 13.5% increase in their base salary, which union leadership said was not good enough to keep up with inflation or compete with the salaries of comparably-sized orchestras, according to statement issued by Local 77.  

Contract negotiations have been ongoing for weeks as orchestra management and union leadership have attempted to hash out details pertaining to musicians' compensation, leave and retirement benefits and pay rates for freelance musicians. Members of the orchestra also want stronger labor protections for orchestra librarians and management commitment to filling 15 seats that are currently vacant in the orchestra. 

The orchestra's most recent contract expired on September 10.  

In the lead-up to that contract's expiration, union leadership negotiated with orchestra management for a contract that would properly address its demands for better compensation and labor protections. On August 20, orchestra musicians voted to authorize a strike in the event that contract negotiations reach an impasse. 

For now, negotiations are expected to continue, although union leadership has indicated that a strike is still possible. 

Despite not having a contract in place, the orchestra's musicians agreed to perform for the opening night of its  2023 - 2024 season last Thursday. The next night, Musicians' Local 77 filed charges against orchestra management with the National Labor Relations Board, saying that management of presenting misleading information to union members and negotiating in bad faith. 

Founded in 1900, the Philadelphia Orchestra 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.