Exclusive: Pittburgh strike ends today with victory for the musicians

Exclusive: Pittburgh strike ends today with victory for the musicians


norman lebrecht

November 23, 2016

An agreement will be announced in Pittsburgh at 3pm local today, announcing a return to work by musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Both sides will claim to have got what they wanted but the leaks that have come our way indicate that one side won.

The musicians have agree to a small pay cut – two-thirds less than the 15% the company demanded – and this small cut will be restored before the end of the present contract.

[UPDATE: In the final settlement the musicians agreed to a cut that was half as much as the PSO demanded but will soon recover to achieve their present wage.]

The musicians have, in other words, maintained their present wage – a wage the company called unsustainable.

We have not yet read the small print on pensions and health care, but the musicians are happy with the deal.

Neither side has yet spoken, but our sources have been accurate throughout.

What happened to end the dispute is that the PSO board and chief executive Melia Tourangeau cracked under pressure from the mayor of Pittsburgh, the public and some of the financial supporters. This was bad for the city, bad for business.

During the course of the dispute the PSO board were shown by an independent assessor to have miscalculated the size of the deficit. It was not $20 million, as claimed by the PSO, but more like $11m. Still a bad number, but no reason to hit the panic buttons and the bunkers, as Melia Tourangeau did in September.


She emerges from the dispute weakened.

This was a strike that should never have happened. Thank goodness it’s over.


You read it here first.

UPDATE (24 hours later): It’s official – the strike’s over.


  • Bob Uripides says:

    If only the Fort Worth Symphony would get this kind of support from their elected officials.

    • MissPrinteditions says:

      My sentiments exactly. Perhaps this resolution can serve as a model for something similar in Fort Worth.

      • Brian Hughes says:

        The problem in Fort Worth is fairly simple. CEO Adkins is out of her league and can’t keep a competent development VP on staff. Then there is the infamous gold-digger and Board Chair Mercedes Bass. She could balance the books with a check from her pin money but instead sends millions (25 to be exact) to the Met to get her (and her ex’s) name on a bunch of seats. I guess that’s how she maintains her “philanthropic” profile.

  • Matt says:

    Non profit arts organizations add gravitas and cache to a city. Their product isn’t profits and balanced books, but art and ephemera. If a country or city ceases to value the arts at a wage structure that can sustain the artists, it will cheapen society immeasurably.

  • Micah Howard says:

    I am the chair of the PSO orchestra committee. I would not characterize this as a “victory” for the musicians (or for either side, for that matter). The ratification vote is still open until late this afternoon (Pittsburgh time) so I cannot comment directly on the details of the tentative agreement; however, there is still a substantial pay cut at the beginning of the agreement, and the recovery to the pre-strike wage is delayed for several years. In the view of the musicians, this is a painful agreement, yet one that we believed was necessary. It reflects a true compromise.

    At this point, we are most interested in looking forward. We will be working with management to repair any damage to the organization and we will do everything we can to help the PSO thrive in the coming years.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Thank you, Micah.
      We’re agreed on the facts. Our perceptions differ.

    • TL says:

      So what is the schedule going to look like? I know its inconsequential for the musicians but some of the shows that have been cancelled simply cannot be replaced or rescheduled.

      I am a donor and a frequent patron and am not happy with any of this.

      • Josh Grumeaux says:

        Really? You’re the victim here? Which cancelled concerts were so irreplaceable that the long-term viability and success of the PSO should have been compromised? Was Pavarotti or Heifetz due to come back to life and perform at Heinz Hall during the strike?

      • Daniel F. says:

        The donor’s values are there for all to see: concerts are not “shows”.

        • Bruce says:

          I’m an orchestra musician and I call concerts “shows.” It’s not a term of cluelessness or disrespect.

          Still, to address TL’s point: the concerts that were cancelled are usually gone forever. A soloist may be able to return in a year or two, at which point they may not be playing the same concerto; some of the repertoire might be rescheduled for the following season. But each concert (or “show,” if you will) is a puzzle with many pieces, and it’s not usually possible to get all the pieces back in the same place again.

          • Barry Guerrero says:

            It is a “victory” in the sense that you all remain employed musicians. There are still far more of us who never receive a check for the services we do (mercenaries), and some of us are pretty darn good too. Consider yourselves somewhat lucky and privileged.

  • Andre Gaskins says:

    It’s not just a win for the musicians, Norman – it’s a win for everyone! 🙂

  • Bruce says:

    I wouldn’t call it a “victory” for anybody but the audiences. If the management didn’t get everything they wanted, well, neither did the musicians. That’s what compromise is.

    Healing after a strike is the hard part. A lot of harsh things get said — sincerely — during a labor dispute that are hard to forget afterward. Trust is a difficult thing to get back after it’s been damaged.

    I wish this orchestra the best as they try to recover from this.

  • sw says:

    Managements often aim high and shoot low. They may have only really wanted a 5% cut but in the interim saved millions with a work stoppage and years of lowered operating costs (musicians salaries). A donor had restored the salaries several years ago with a substantial gift. It’s unfortunate their gesture has led to a cut again.

  • Ole Bohn says:

    I am happy that the strike ended . A pay cut for the musicians is still painful, though.
    I didn’t hear or read anything from the music director , Manfred Honeck during this conflict . It could be my fault . Did he stand with his musicians ? I hope he also will accept a pay cut !


      Honeck was silent other than a generic “I hope this gets worked out”-ish letter early on. As the strike wore on, the musicians all wondered why he never came to the Pittsburgh even once during the strike, why he wouldn’t say anything positive about the musicians’ efforts, and if he did reach out to any musicians it was tepid at best. I heard Tortelier recently wrote a letter in full support of the musicians — support that Honeck has yet to show in any fashion to the entire membership. It will be a very interesting week next week when Honeck is in town and back on the podium. For his own sake, I hope he doesn’t try to take credit for any of this. The musicians and the musicians alone stood strong to forge this deal.

      • Musician says:

        Music directors rarely stick their neck out during a labor stoppage. Most are happy sitting at home and cashing their pay check. Slatkin did the same thing in Detroit. Kudos to Spano, Runnicles, and Vanska for deviating from the norm.

      • MM says:

        Conductors, like Manfred Honeck in this example, are neither part of the orchestra administration nor are they a member of the group of union musicians. Honeck has behaved as he thought appropriate. In the past, others, like Osmo Vansaka, handled themselves differently. To each his own.
        Thrilled that the PSO will soon (fingers crossed) be back in Heinz Hall making beautiful music. Let’s all be thankful.

      • James of Thames says:

        Music Directors are hired by the Board, therefore they rarely insert themselves into labor disputes. Of course they want a resolution to any work stoppages, but if they perceive the Board to be in the wrong, they’d be wise to not make public statements to that effect.

        • Paul Adelmer Ganson says:


          • Barry Guerrero says:

            Exactly. In America, it’s enough that they expect conductors to do tons of PR work, something they don’t do quite so much in Europe (not that the comparison matters). Regardless, negotiations between labor and management should not involve the conductor. Just one person’s opinion.

            As good as Honeck has been for Pittsburgh, it’s foolish to think he’ll stick around forever.

  • Sandra says:

    So relieved for the citizens of the city. Pittsburgh reputation was tarnished with this strike. Culture is priceless and they should do EVERYThING to keep their symphony members and patrons happy.

  • Charles Prazak says:

    They are only losing 11 million a year? How long will that last?

  • Beryl Diamond Chacon says:

    A patron is an important person and should be given a thank you, and some payback for their support and lost concerts. I think a free concert to all subscription holders is in order. Personally, I think all musicians should be paid and the music director donate his services in support of the orchestra. It would go a long way in the healing process.

  • JOSEPH SHIRK says:

    Melia only made a 90% error in her projections — only the musicians, the city, the restaurants, the public and the PSO suffered.

    So glad to have our symphony back doing what they love!

  • Janet Lee says:

    This is wonderful news.
    As the Metropolitan Opera in New York prepares for contract negotiations with Peter Gelb we can hope that New Yorks political elite will stand shoulder to shoulder with their great musicians, choristers, stage crew,and support staff AGAINST him.
    Last year tickets sales were the LOWEST EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE METROPOLITAN OPERA COMPANY. During the last contentious negotiations, the entire labor force supplied the Mets Board of Directors with a comprehensive analysis of Gelbs failed business model: from his choices in New productions ( which have a pitifully short shelf life): his refusal to remount winners like the Zeffirelli TOSCA production: lavish spending on silk poppies / alternative opera singers flown in to perform when covers are already in house and being paid (original cast member gets sick) ad nauseum. He does not know or care to know how to manage money. The company has done everything he has asked of them including taking 7% wage cuts with additional cuts to scheduling . Mr.Gelbs salary along with other top management has not been touched however. He continues to make over 2 million per annum for a non- profit manager !
    The apocalyptic downward spiral of the Metropolitan Operas popularity has very little to do with an ” aging” audience or opera being less popular nowadays. No, this kind of drop off is catastrophic and can only be attributed to gross mismanagement: a General Manager who suits himself and refuses to pander to audience taste.
    If his were a “for profit” corporation, Peter Gelb would have received his marching orders years ago. The Board has a lot to answer for .

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Easy to criticize, but who do think – at this time – would be better for such a huge and thankless job?

  • LA says:

    Scary that they can’t tell the difference between 11 million and 20 million. Not-for-profits, and arts organizations in particular, are notoriously bad at managing money. When will these people hire competent professionals? Do we need more New York City Operas in order to learn how to run arts organizations in a fiscally sound manner? Shame on all involved!

    Professional musician and former Director of Finance of a performing arts organization.

    • FK says:

      The all idea of the “non-for-profit” organizations is not to make profits! People need to stop thinking that everything can be ran like a business especially when it has to do with art, music etc which provides much needed balance in the public life. Rules in corporations that are for profit are not the same as in bon-for-profit. What are we going to do? Fire the principal because he missed a note? Or because a survey of “customers” did not like his/her interpretation in la Bohème? The pity in all this is the fact that organizations like orchetstras, museums etc cannot survive in this country without private money! Arts in all forms are a necessity and we could not live without it. They should be supported by government funds as well as private money so there are no risks like this.