Offer on the table to bring Philharmonic back on stage, but contract not a done deal

Local News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The Fort Wayne Philharmonic announced Tuesday that its team returned to the negotiating table for the first time in six months on April 2. Continued discussions on April 15 and 21 worked on the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

The Philharmonic said it has made several advancements forward, including agreeing to maintain all current core and per-service musicians. It also offers to maintain musician’s current weekly salaries at 100% of the last collectively bargained agreement pay scale.

The Philharmonic has agreed to maintain all 44 of the current core and 19 per-service musicians with no musician reductions. Instead, it plans are to reduce the number of weeks the orchestra plays each season from 33 to 28.

“This reduction in weeks allows the Philharmonic some of the financial flexibility it needs to respond to the ongoing COVID crisis, while enabling the musicians of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic to earn approximately 85% of their overall yearly compensation,” the Philharmonic said.

Chuck Surack, chair for the Philharmonic Board of Directors, said that they are looking to offset some of the financial losses they have experienced since the pandemic began. The Philharmonic has seen slight decreases in attendance over the years as this type of entertainment has become more accessible online and they are anticipating that they will see a drop in attendance as people are still weary of close-quarter entertainment.

“Well, you can imagine without having ticket sales, without having concerts it really did hurt our finances,” said Surack. “A lot of our audiences are older audiences and of course hopefully many of them have been vaccinated now but I don’t know are prepared to go into the Embassy or Purdue Fort Wayne or many of the places we play and sit right next to somebody else for 90 minutes or so.”

However, Players’ Association chair Campbell MacDonald said all versions of new contract offers have made those salary cuts permanent, a move that according to MacDonald could have long-term repercussions for musicians.

“Philharmonic has been dedicated to exacting permanent cuts in wages and conditions from musicians,” MacDonald said. “In every offer, they have made during the pandemic. If they go forward and are implemented on a permanent basis, it will be years decades before we recover.”

MacDonald believes that this could make it harder for the Philharmonic to attract higher-quality musicians, especially since spreading the performance weeks across the entire year would prevent the orchestra players from pursuing other opportunities alongside the pandemic.

To supplement next season’s reduction of weeks, an additional seven weeks of work for summer 2021 has also been added to the financial package for the musicians, the press release said. The Philharmonic has also agreed to pay 99% of musician healthcare coverage until Aug. 31.

In addition, the Philharmonic said insurance rates will return to the previous 70% employer-paid coverage rate from past contracts.

“As the Board of Directors cares deeply for the welfare of its musicians, this temporary healthcare increase provides much-needed assistance to respond to the challenges of these extraordinary times,” the Philharmonic said.

Once accepted, the musicians will also receive a one-time furlough offset payment of an
additional $1,000 for core members and $500 for per-service musicians, the Philharmonic said.

“The Philharmonic understands this past year has not been easy and that these negotiations have gone on long enough. It is imperative that the organization makes operational changes to
weather this storm. We hope that by addressing the concerns of the musicians we are able to get back to making the music we love,” said Chair Chuck Surack.

In total, the Philharmonic said musicians will retain approximately 85% of their pay during the 2021-2022 performance season.

The musician’s union is still demanding roughly 100% compensation for the 2021-2022 season.
The Philharmonic said these demands do not allow the organization to address any of the adverse COVID financial impacts, including attrition of audiences and earned ticket revenues. However, the Philharmonic is hopeful that the musicians will negotiate so a resolution can be reached in time to announce a summer season.

At the time of this article, the musicians still plan on protesting in downtown Fort Wayne on Saturday.

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