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Music

Symphony strike settled, concerts resume Dec. 2

| Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, 2:57 p.m.
Members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra went on strike on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
Members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra went on strike on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.

The Pittsburgh Symphony and its striking musicians have reached agreement on a new five-year contract, which runs through Sept. 5, 2021, the symphony announced Wednesday.

Concerts will resume Dec. 2 and 4 with music director Manfred Honeck leading free concerts at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

The agreement calls for a 10.5 percent pay cut of the $107,239 base salary in the first year, but a special donation from an anonymous donor will make the effective cut 7.5 percent, to $99,196. There is a salary freeze in the second year; 3.3 percent and 2 percent increases in the third and fourth years; and restoration of the current base salary in the fifth year.

Other terms of the contract will transition the pension plan from defined-benefit to defined-contribution, and maintain the size of the orchestra at 99 performing musicians plus two librarians.

Three open positions in the string section will remain unfilled for the duration of the contract.

The union ratified the contract Wednesday afternoon. The union declined to reveal the vote total.

“I'm very pleased that both sides were able to work together to come to a resolution,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who hosted meetings with the parties to work toward a settlement. “Unlike some labor disputes I've been involved with, there was never animosity between the parties. On behalf of the residents of Pittsburgh, I congratulate the musicians and board members for supporting each other to preserve this world-class institution.”

The contract represents a true compromise, according to symphony CEO Melia Tourangeau.

“We still have a huge uphill battle ahead of us to raise money over the next five years and beyond, but I do believe the settlement represents a huge sacrifice on the part of the musicians, and so I'm grateful,” she said.

The symphony's strategy for fundraising will be to build the annual fund from $8.6 million to $13.5 to 14 million. Tourangeau said she believes there's more capacity for growth for contributions in the $10,000 to $100,000 range than among the largest donors.

The symphony announced it has trimmed $800,000 from its administrative budget, including the elimination of 10 positions and a pay cut for the CEO.

Management's initial contract proposal was for a 25 percent pay cut, changes to the pension and reduction in the orchestra's size, necessitated, it said, because of $20.4 million in debt due in the next five years. The musicians contended the debt figure was inflated and that such a large pay cut would prevent attracting and retaining the top talent needed for a world-class orchestra.

Despite an attempt at federal mediation, the strike began Sept. 30 after management said a 15 percent pay cut was its final offer.

“As musicians, we are working very hard to ensure that the quality of the orchestra remains, but it will be challenging because our competitive edge clearly has been compromised, though not as much as was proposed and was the reason for the strike. We clearly have met in the middle,” said bass player Micah Howard, head of the musicians' negotiating committee.

Hiring of musicians is handled by the musicians and the music director.

The contract follows the pattern of many contracts of Pittsburgh Symphony musicians accepting a large pay cut at the start of a contract followed by full restoration by its end.

“I do hope moving forward that these sacrifices will help Melia and Devin (McGranahan, board chairman) to obtain the support that is necessary to maintain our great orchestra and make it even better moving forward,” Howard said. “My hope is that this will be a starting point of many, many better years.”

Mark Kanny is the Tribune-Review classical music critic. Reach him at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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