Ticket sales are healthier and reviews upbeat, but off stage there’s less harmony as the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra struggles to negotiate a new contract with the union that represents its musicians.
For their part, the musicians say they are being asked to accept a pay cut despite the region’s improving economy.
Weeks before their three-year contract expired on July 31, the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians requested a $3.5 million increase over three years.
The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association rejected the opening offer, and, citing fiscal difficulties, countered with a proposal that would reduce musicians’ 46 paid weeks to 43. It amounts to a 6.5 percent decrease that would come from a reduction of paid time off, FWSO President and CEO Amy Adkins said.
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“Currently, the FWSO has 46 paid weeks in a season, seven of which are paid leave and vacation,” Adkins said. “The crux of the Association’s proposal is a reduction in the number of paid weeks from 46 to 43. This proposed reduction represents the elimination of two weeks of paid vacation and one week of unused services.”
Musicians don’t see why a cut is necessary
Kenneth Krause, president of Local 72-147 of the American Federation of Musicians
It would not, she said, affect the concert season for patrons. “The Association ... is not proposing to reduce the number of programs and performances we provide to our community,” she said.
The musicians revised their initial offer, spreading their proposed $3.5 million increase over four years with some concessions during the first year.
But the orchestra, with a $12-million-plus budget, simply can not afford the musicians’ request, Adkins said. “It would have added approximately $1 million a year,” she said.
The Association ... is not proposing to reduce the number of programs and performances we provide to our community
FWSO President and CEO Amy Adkins
The union did not respond when asked about its revised offer, nor to repeated texts and emails.
Kenneth Krause, president of the Local 72-147 of the American Federation of Musicians, said in an earlier interview that members took a 13.5 percent base pay cut in 2010 and have recovered only 5 percent since then. The musicians’ recently expired agreement, signed in 2012, had included a 3.5 percent salary increase over the life of the contract and a 46-week concert season, plus increased flexibility in paid and unpaid leave during the summer.
“The mood in the orchestra is not very good,” Krause said. “Musicians don’t see why a cut is necessary.”
In 2010, FWSO management and musicians engaged in grueling contract negotiations, some under federal mediation. As well as a wage cut that year, the musicians agreed to a schedule that was shortened from 52 weeks to 45 weeks. Then-orchestra president Ann Koonsman cited a sharp recession-time decline in ticket sales and grant cuts from the Arts Council, as well as canceled performances, including those with the Texas Ballet Theater and Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary.
In response, FWSO also laid off four full-time administrative employees in 2010, froze salaries and ceased its 401(k) retirement fund match.
$12 millionFWSO’s annual budget
“The measures, which involved both cost-cutting and revenue generation strategies employed in 2010, did not fully solve our serious financial dilemma,” Adkins said. “We have balanced it through stopgap measures. Even with those measures, we have run a deficit of $200,000 to $458,000. That stopgap funding is no longer available to us.”
She noted that the FWSO’s endowment funds have dropped $5 million to $23 million over the past seven years. “The endowment funds controlled by the Orchestra Association are in the recovery phase since the 2008 stock market drop. Another fund not controlled by the FWSO performed poorly,” Adkins said.
Also hurting the orchestra in recent years have been reductions in corporate giving that followed mergers and takeovers of large local firms that traditionally had been major patrons, she said.
Fort Worth Opera canceled a production with which the FWSO would have played last spring.
The reunion with the Texas Ballet Theater has most certainly helped our bottom line for the past two seasons
Amy Adkins, FWSO president and CEO
However, the orchestra is again playing with Texas Ballet Theater (including in five performances of Dracula this weekend at Bass Hall). When the ballet contract was cancelled for the 2008-09 season, the orchestra lost six weeks of regular employment and a $360,000 fee. That was about a third of approximately $1 million in the orchestra’s revenue losses during an 18-month period during the Recession. Last season, it performed with the ballet for two productions, mitigating losses somewhat.
“…The reunion with the Texas Ballet Theater has most certainly helped our bottom line for the past two seasons,” Adkins said. “Without this partially renewed source of revenue, our deficits would have been larger, making our financial condition more precarious.”
Concert ticket sales are up this season, but, Adkins said, it is the first turnaround in eight years of steep declines.
“Even with that small increase, season tickets are $200,000 less than seven years ago,” she said.
Despite the fiscal struggles, Adkins said, pay for Fort Worth’s classical musicians ranks among those of similarly sized orchestras in their budget tier — 65 full-time musicians with an average salary of $62,000 — “with a very generous health plan.”
Union president Krause agrees, but said the orchestra’s proposal would see Fort Worth fall in those very same rankings.
“With what they are suggesting, we would drop down, way down. We would drop below North Carolina Symphony (in Raleigh), San Diego and the Oregon Symphony in Portland,” he said.
$62,000Average salary of an FWSO musician
Krause points out that the Dallas Symphony gave its players wage hikes last month despite that orchestra’s financial problems. The Sept. 25 agreement calls for 3 percent annual raises this season and next, following years of wage freezes or tiny increases.
Noting that Texas Christian University in Fort Worth was able to raise $250 million in donations during the recent recession, the local union president questioned why the orchestra’s fund-raising has been comparably modest.
Union talks will not affect FWSO’s planned May 2016 tour of Spain.
Adkins said current union talks will not affect FWSO’s planned May 2016 tour of Spain, its first foreign trip in 25 years and first with music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya. She said half the cost will be covered by presenters in Spain.
“Much of the remaining funding is already in place from foundations and other funders who agree that this historic tour is an opportunity to raise the international and national profile of the FWSO, and we believe has great potential to garner support from new donors who take pride in the fact that their orchestra is playing on international stages,” she said. “For instance, we have secured a grant from the Fort Worth Promotion and Development Fund, an organization that would not otherwise support the FWSO for local projects.”
Getting their message out
FWSO musicians are attempting to bolster support from the public through the use of media, both low- and high-tech. For several weeks before concerts, musicians — wearing green “awareness”-style ribbons on their traditional black concert attire — have handed out to patrons brightly colored leaflets that say, “The Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Stand Together for a Fair and Progressive Contract!” and offer a website (www.fwsomusicians.com), Facebook page (Facebook.com/fwsomusicians) and Twitter handle (Twitter.com/fwsomusicians) to follow.
A few minutes before the start of their Oct. 2 concert, the musicians walked off the Bass Hall stage and walked back on a minute later as a show of solidarity. Some members of the audience applauded and even stood and cheered, while others scratched their heads as to the meaning of the act.
Before a September concert, the musicians stood up together on stage in what amounted to a moment of silence before a concert; program inserts explained the gesture was about fair contract negotiations.
“The mood of the talks is not so bad, not great,” Krause said.
Adkins said the last round of negotiations showed a “real willingness to have a constructive conversation,” noting that earlier talks exhibited a “lot of venting.”
The mood of the talks is not so bad, not great
Kenneth Krause, local union president
Talks resume on Oct. 19 with Adkins planning to present a revised counter-offer.
“We have to come together for a collaborative solution,” Adkins said. “We must come to a compromise for the long-term sustainability of the orchestra.”
This story contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.