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Orchestra musicians OK new contract, end strike

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra performs with Vadym Kholodenko on piano. The 2016 Classical Masters Festival in late August was the last series of concerts performed by the symphony before the strike.
The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra performs with Vadym Kholodenko on piano. The 2016 Classical Masters Festival in late August was the last series of concerts performed by the symphony before the strike. Special/Rachel Parker

After a three-month strike, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will be making music again.

The musicians voted on Wednesday to approve a new labor agreement with orchestra management that includes a pay freeze for the first two years and modest pay raises in the last two years of the four-year contract.

The orchestra’s first concert will take place Dec. 31 at Bass Hall, conducted by music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya.

“This agreement represents what the musicians have been asking for all along, and that is a plan to move forward without cutting the very core of what makes the orchestra great — and that’s the talent of its musicians,” said musicians union President Stewart Williams.

This agreement represents what the musicians have been asking for all along, and that is a plan to move forward without cutting the very core of what makes the orchestra great — and that’s the talent of its musicians.

Union President Stewart Williams

Management was able to offer pay raises after an anonymous donor came forward with $700,000 to cover the increased cost of the musicians’ salaries, orchestra President Amy Adkins said. The donation will “substantially reduce” the symphony’s annual projected shortfall for the next few seasons, she said, although it will not cover all the annual losses.

“The gift basically covered what we were asking from the musicians, so the rest is up to the board and the management team and also the community,” Adkins said. “We ask the community to step up and help this orchestra maintain its world-class status.”

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The labor agreement, which will run through July 31, 2020, will keep musicians’ wages at their current rate for the next two years. Musicians will then receive a weekly pay increase of 2 percent in the third year and 2.5 percent in the fourth year. Vacation will be reduced from 35 to 28 days for musicians; however, health insurance premiums will remain the same.

More than a year of talks

The orchestra’s management and its musicians have been locked in tense labor negotiations since the musicians’ contract expired in July 2015. The musicians, who are represented by the American Federation of Musicians Local 72-147, went on strike Sept. 8 after rejecting a contract proposal that included a pay cut in the first year and higher health insurance premiums.

The musicians, who took a 13.5 percent pay cut in their contract signed in 2010, wanted raises in their new agreement. However, symphony management said it could not afford to increase musicians’ salaries as the organization has operated with annual deficits for several years.

We ask the community to step up and help this orchestra maintain its world class status.

Orchestra President Amy Adkins

During the strike, the management canceled concerts through year’s end. The musicians, under the name Symphony Musicians of Fort Worth, organized several community concerts, including two upcoming holiday performances — “A Baroque Christmas” on Dec. 13 at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth and “Baroque Holiday Concert” on Dec. 22 at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake.

The musicians and management also arranged for a one-time contract to allow musicians to play with Texas Ballet Theater’s performances at Winspear Opera House in Dallas and at Bass Hall in Fort Worth while they were striking.

With the signing of a new contract, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will meet its prior commitments to provide live accompaniment for the 2017 Fort Worth Opera Festival and for the semifinal and final rounds of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

The musicians’ first paid week back after the strike will start Dec. 26, culminating with their return to Bass Hall on New Year’s Eve. The concert will not be a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald as had been planned before the cancellation. The orchestra’s website described the concert as “A New Year’s Eve Celebration,” including a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with guest pianist Adam Golka. Tickets go on sale at 3 p.m. Friday.

Fort Worth is home to cowboys and culture, and the symphony is the leading piece of that culture.

Mayor Betsy Price

“I’m thrilled the strike is resolved,” Harth-Bedoya said in a statement. “I can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate the New Year than with the return of the orchestra and its wonderful musicians.”

Mayor Betsy Price said she may change her New Year’s Eve plans with friends now that she knows the symphony will be playing at Bass Hall.

“I am delighted that they settled this,” Price said. “Fort Worth is home to cowboys and culture, and the symphony is the leading piece of that culture.”

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

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