Philadelphia Orchestra Musicians Reject Contract Proposal Over Unequal Pay: What's Next?

In other words, after the previous contract of the Philadelphia Orchestra's musicians expired on September 10, 2023, they have decided to reject a proposed settlement due to concerns about unequal pay compared to other professional orchestras. This rejection occurred because negotiations with the orchestra's management, Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center Inc. (POKC), broke down 48 hours before the contract's expiration, leaving the musicians with no choice but to vote on what they considered an inadequate proposal.

Following three days of negotiations, 85 musicians voted against POKC's "best and final offer," while two members abstained. Since none of the members voted in favor, the musicians are now seeking to renegotiate through their union. This decision comes after 95% of the orchestra's voting members had previously agreed to go on strike if a new collective bargaining agreement wasn't reached with POKC.

The musicians had requested better pay, improved leave and retirement benefits, equal pay for substitute musicians, filling the orchestra's 15 vacant positions, workplace protections, and more autonomy, none of which they believe are adequately addressed in POKC's new proposal.

The musicians accused the orchestra's management of forcing the vote by abruptly ending negotiations and presenting a final offer shortly after agreeing to continue discussions late into the night before the contract's expiration.

POKC argued that their final offer was fair and would have resulted in a 13.5% salary increase over three years, including a $10,000 signing bonus in the first year. However, the musicians' union claimed that their salaries have been falling behind those of musicians in other professional orchestras over the past two decades and argued for a 19.6% increase to reach the average salary of comparable orchestras.

The union also stated that POKC's offer did not account for inflation in recent years and described the proposed 6% raise as a pay cut compared to the start of their last contract in 2019.

POKC countered by arguing that the orchestra's financial ranking should consider compensation payments and the cost of living in different orchestra markets. They claimed that the yearly compensation for PO musicians, including benefits, is $190,736, along with 10 weeks of paid leave, a health package, and an 8% pension contribution.

In their last proposal, the union suggested a 15% raise in the first year to increase the minimum base salary to $166,140, with further increases in subsequent years, aiming to reach a base salary of $194,220 by March 11, 2026, or the average salary of the nation's top seven orchestras, whichever is higher.

The musicians also highlighted that they collectively took a pay cut of $52,000 each during the COVID-19 pandemic, totaling $6 million, despite the orchestra receiving nearly $30 million in federal and state funds during that time.

POKC argued that the orchestra has not met its fundraising goal for the current fiscal year, and ticket sales are 25% lower than they were in 2019.

The next bargaining session has not yet been scheduled, and the musicians have authorized their negotiating committee to call a strike if necessary.

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