Pasadena Symphony Musicians Vote Overwhelmingly to Authorize Strike

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Press release from the American Federation of Musicians Local 47:

LOS ANGELES (December 1, 2017): Musicians of the Pasadena Symphony and POPS orchestras voted today by an overwhelming majority to authorize a strike, potentially halting concerts during the popular holiday season and into the New Year.

Musicians have been without a contract since September of 2015, when their last agreement expired. Ten years ago, when the orchestra faced financial uncertainty, the musicians did everything possible to ensure the orchestra’s survival: absorbing cost-saving cuts, forgoing raises for years, even playing without compensation. At the time, the Pasadena Symphony Association promised musicians that these cuts would be temporary. Current management has disavowed those commitments. Now, a decade after the crisis, Pasadena Symphony musicians have yet to reach an agreement that restores their generous concessions.

The Association has experienced a dramatic turnaround since the financial crisis. Their overall budget has increased by more than 33% in the last seven years. In recent years they report annual surpluses of between $200,000 and $700,000, placing the organization on firm financial footing. Meanwhile, the musicians’ wages have increased only 6%, falling far behind cost of living which has spiked over 20% during the same period. Management’s own figures show that only 25% of their budget is allocated to paying musicians, including benefits, payroll taxes and other associated costs. The Regional Orchestra Players Association recommends orchestras like Pasadena should dedicate between 42% and 44% to musicians.

“We understand the difficulties of running a world-class orchestra, but management has found the money to pay for rising administrative and logistical costs,” said Phil O’Connor, a clarinetist and member of the orchestra committee. “Meanwhile rents and other costs have skyrocketed and musicians are struggling to make ends meet.”

Management’s “last and final offer” to musicians included a total increase from 2016 through 2020 amounting to less than 15% over five contract years. Orchestra members make an average of less than $4,000 per year with the Pasadena Symphony. The orchestra bargaining committee and the union do not accept the offer as fair or in line with other high-quality orchestras in the region. “Cost of living is likely to increase significantly over the next few years and we believe our orchestra will endure even greater economic hardship if we accept this offer,” the orchestra committee said in an email sent to all orchestra members.

If no agreement is reached, a walkout could happen as soon as this month, potentially putting over 70 freelance musicians out of a job that provides a significant amount of their overall income. Freelancers must work several jobs in order to make ends meet, including studio recording, teaching at universities and music schools, and performing in other ensembles. This is a critical time for freelance musicians, whose work tends to slow significantly during the holiday season.

There is no date set for the next round of negotiations, but the musicians remain ready and willing to work with management to try and reach a fair agreement.

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