Members of the musicians union picketed outside Bass Hall until after 9 p.m. Thursday. This morning, they’re also marching on the sidewalk surrounding the Maddox-Muse Center — home of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra management offices — across the street from the performance hall. They carry signs declaring they are on strike and wear green T-shirts that read “Growth not Cuts.”
At issue is the musicians’ labor contract. Management and the union have been in federal mediation since July and in contract negotiations for more than 15 months.
The orchestra employs 65 full-time musicians with an average salary of $62,000 and health benefits. A proposed contract that musicians rejected earlier this week included a significant pay cut in the first year and then small, incremental pay raises in the following three years. By the fourth year, the pay increases would have resulted in principal players being paid more than $70,000 a year.
Management says it simply can’t grant the musicians raises and remain viable. Orchestra staffers’ pay has been frozen for several years, and they have received no pension funding, management says.
The orchestra is projecting a $700,000 operating deficit for the 2016-17 season. The symphony finished its most recent season with a $500,000 deficit, $300,000 less than projected, partly because of better-than-expected ticket sales for the Concerts in the Garden.
How did the orchestra’s financial situation get so dire?
In a candid interview nine months ago, Amy Adkins, FWSO president and CEO, laid out for the Star-Telegram reasons why management said it needed to cut musicians’ pay, including loss of performance fees from other performing arts organizations, decreases in corporate giving, endowments that were hit by the downturn in the oil and gas industry, and increased rental costs at Bass Hall.
“No matter what we are doing to improve matters, the setbacks have erased everything we’ve done and then some,” Adkins said in January.
For background on the FWSO’s financial troubles, which predate the recession, read our entire story from January, “Fort Worth Symphony dealing with deficits lasting several years, CEO says.”
Staff writer Stephanie Allmon Merry contibuted to this report, which contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.