Breaking: Pittsburgh Symphony goes on strike

Talks have broken down on musicians’ wages. They have walked out.

Press release follows.

Pittsburgh musicians join Fort Worth colleagues on the picket line.

The Philadelphia Orchestra will resume talks with musicians later today (Friday). They could be next.


pittsburgh halls

UPDATE: First picture and why it came to this

UPDATE2: PSO: Why we won’t yield to musicians

Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra On Strike

Musicians Reject Unprecedented Cuts to Pay, Benefits, Orchestra Size

In response to Management’s demands for a 15% pay cut, a freeze of the Musicians’ pension, and a reduction in the number of Musicians, the Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (“PSO”) have been forced to go on strike, effective immediately.

Since February 2016, the Musicians have met regularly with the management of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Inc. (“PSI”) in an effort to reach a fair labor agreement. The current contract expired on September 5, but the Musicians agreed to extend the agreement through September 18 so the PSO’s Gala performance could proceed on September 17. Since then, the Musicians have been working without a contract.

The Musicians came to these negotiations prepared to help put the PSI’s new management team in the best position to succeed. But instead, the Musicians were blindsided by PSI Management’s demands for radical cuts to salary, retirement, and the number of Musicians in the Orchestra.

On September 18, PSI Management presented what it deemed a “last, best, and final” contract offer. In that proposal, Management demands the following:

•          An immediate wage cut of 15% (from $107,239 to $91,153), with only minor increases (2% and 3%) for each of the following two years.

•          A “hard freeze” of the Musicians’ pension plan, in which all participants with less than 30 years of service would no longer accrue pension benefits and would instead be switched to a 401k plan.

•          A reduction in the Orchestra complement (presently 99 plus 2 librarians, though 3 positions are currently vacant) to some lower number that would be unilaterally determined by PSI Management, which would have sole discretion to decline to replace Musicians who retire or leave the Orchestra.

The consequences of those cuts would be severe and immediate. Pittsburgh boasts an orchestra internationally recognized as one of the world’s best. If PSI Management’s proposed cuts were realized, many of the PSO’s finest Musicians will leave. The Orchestra will be unable to attract replacements of the same caliber. The reputation and stature of the Pittsburgh Symphony would forever be diminished.

After receiving Management’s so-called final offer on September 18, the Musicians suggested the parties work with mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (“FMCS”). PSI Management agreed to do so; however, despite a mediation process that lasted more than ten days, and despite continued good-faith efforts by the Musicians to compromise, Management’s demands did not change at all.

On Thursday, September 29, the Orchestra Committee (the Musicians’ bargaining team) presented Management’s so-called final offer to the Musicians for an up-or-down vote. The result was a unanimous rejection of Management’s offer.

The Musicians want nothing more than to reach a fair and equitable agreement. Throughout the bargaining process and in mediation, the Musicians have offered major concessions on salary, pension, and size of the orchestra – all the topics that are the focus of Management’s demands. Management rejected all of those offers.

Management’s refusal to compromise clearly is ideological. New PSI Management has decided, against all evidence, that Pittsburgh somehow cannot support a world-class orchestra, and that a “new business model” is needed. This makes no sense. In 2016, the PSO’s Annual Fund hit a record; ticket sales are up; the Pittsburgh economy is dynamic; the Cultural District is thriving. This is no time for the PSI to abandon the idea that Pittsburgh deserves a world-class orchestra.

The Musicians also have a long history of working collaboratively with PSI Management when the PSO has faced financial challenges. The last strike was in 1975. Frequently since then, the Musicians have agreed to pay cuts, pension changes, and other concessions designed to help the PSO get through difficult times. But the Musicians have never faced demands for concessions this severe, nor have they encountered such a bizarre and stubborn ideological stance. To the extent the PSO faces financial challenges, there must be a better way than to destroy the very institution that PSI Management has been charged with preserving.

At 10:00 a.m. today, September 30, the Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony will establish a picket line outside Heinz Hall. We invite all supporters of the Musicians, and of the Pittsburgh Symphony, to join us in protesting PSI Management’s misguided attempt to force these destructive cuts on the Musicians.

Further, on October 4th, the Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will present a free “Day of Music” to Pittsburgh as our gift to the community. This will consist of 11 different performances between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Please see the Musicians’ Facebook page (Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) or our website ( for more details.

The Musicians call on PSI Management to return to the bargaining table, and to work in good faith to reach a fair contract with the Musicians.

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  • Can people in arts management just stop saying “new business model”? It’s glib, disingenous, and it devalues the product. Everyone knows that it really means “we want to pay the musicians less”.

  • Way to go new management. Guess we will get a refund for the children’s concert Sunday…alienate your customers, good business model.

      • Milks, did you not see that attendance is up? Have you seen ticket prices, which people gladly pay to see world-class musicians perform? Or is that just an inconvenient agenda item?

  • The execs stink! They would even go on smear media campaigns to make the musicians look unreasonable and greedy.

    The deal is …. those management task masters have no idea about the orchestra’s intangible value and contribution. They only see revenue in, expense out. Nothing more.

    It’s sickening.

  • Very sad and very stupid move on the part of their management and board. This is the new fakey “business model” that was used in Minneapolis and Atlanta and Indianapolis in the past few years.

  • It is strange that the community of Pittsburgh is willing to let go one of the most famous orchestras in the western world. One should think that the economically conscious public of the city were aware of not only the loss of a brilliant orchestra as the result of the conflict, but also the damage done to international business of the area. Music is not only a matter of good taste. This orchestra contributes to Pittsburghs image worldwide. Also money-wise.

  • I wish the musicians the best of luck, and I’m no fan of any management, but here is the reality: with the Conservatories and Universities constantly and endlessly churning out top-notch, extremely talented players who have no gig and little prospect of finding one, most (if not all) of the Pittsburgh players could easily be replaced by musicians who would work for half of what the PSO are getting paid.

    • Rich, you clearly are living in a fantasy world. Every single musician in the PSO is very unique and extremely talented. There are musicians from Juilliard and the likes that do not even pass the first round of an audition for this level of orchestra. Your comment would be no different than saying the entire New England Patriots team is easily replacable with star college athletes.

      • Sports are an necessity for most , symphony orchestras not so ……………And there is nothing special about the Pittsburgh players that can’t be duplicated in any major city .

      • ” Every single musician in the PSO is very unique and extremely talented.” And you think I am the one who is delusional? Your statement is utter nonsense. There is no question in anyone’s mind that the PSO musicians are talented, but unique? Hardly. My point remains: there are lots of unemployed/under-employed musicians who could easily replace any of the PSO players and they would do it for a lot less pay. It is simple supply and demand, with too much of the former and ever less of the latter.

        Understand, I am not saying that this is a good thing. It isn’t. But to maintain that the PSO musicians are irreplaceable is ridiculous.

    • Sure, there are loads of great musicians coming out of universities, but when you’re talking about PSO, you are not talking about these bright young musicians. These are the top 1% of trained musicians. Sure they can be replaced, but it would no longer be the top notch, respected ensemble that they are famous for. It would be like replacing an all-star team with a bunch of rookies… you aren’t likely going to win many games

    • Rich Patina, This is nonsense and you are obviously ignorant. I am a graduate of the Royal College of Music (London) and the New England Conservatory (Boston) and have studied at Indiana University. I now work in Detroit (Professor at Wayne State) I ‘ve seen the same game played here a few years ago. The Detroit Symphony still has not been able to replace it’s distinguished principal second violin, Geof Applegate. They had a very hard time replacing some of their top people reasonably. In music and the arts in general just getting a degree or a diploma is NOT enough. It’s not like getting a degree in accounting or in law or in medicine; you have to be at the top tier as a lawyer, (or doctor or accountant etc.) to be a member of a top tier major orchestra. I thought Pittsburgh (where I lived and worked for 14 years) had found a positive and constructive way of dealing with how to take care of their musicians. To force them to go on strike is really sad and very disappointing.

        • Several of Detroit’s musicians left in a huff and the orchestra sounds, in my opinion, better than ever. They’re all replaceable. Easily. Boards know that.

      • Professor at Wayne State? Then you, sir, are part of the problem – teaching music students for whom there will likely be no jobs. Just because you lucked out and found a job in your chosen profession does not mean that every musician will be as fortunate.

        I was told (I haven’t verified), by someone who should know what they are talking about, that the Pew Research Group did a study to try and determine what percentage of music graduates find a job in music and the result was 1.45%. Not a typo – 1.45%!!

  • Sad that Maazel was paid so much while the fiscal health of the orchestra suffered. Short-sighted administrators with no imagination to foresee the consequences of their actions are the reason for this sorry state. We know the state of Pennsylvania won’t help. Sheesh.

  • The assault on working people. Good luck, musicians. You’re going to need it.

    I wonder what the collective political leaning of the board is. I have my suspicions.

  • I stopped counting at 80+ people . That is 80+ personnel on the staff directory at PSO.

    I stopped counting when it started to look as thought there were more managers that musicians and I started to feel ill.

    I would very much like to know what it is exactly that they do? And I would like to know how much they pay themselves. Who are these people? And to whom do they answer? And are the right questions being asked.

    That is more management than the core of many major international companies.

    And they are not running a company.

    They are running a handful of loss making concerts and doing a lousy job of it.

    As a patron investor I certainly would not donate one red cent to an organization so terribly dysfunctional and obviously top heavy with non productive management

    If it were otherwise the results would be wholly positive

    The “strike” is over . The mess merely repackaged.

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