NY City Ballet does not have to pay its orchestra through Covid

NY City Ballet does not have to pay its orchestra through Covid


norman lebrecht

August 09, 2021

An arbitrator has found that NYCB is justified in not paying its orchestra during the Covid period when there were no performances – despite the company’s prior agreement to do so.

The union has lashed out at the arbitrator, but this ruling is not looking good for prospects of live performance in NY.

Here’s the union statement:
On Aug. 6, 2021, Arbitrator Barry Peek issued an award upholding New York City Ballet’s (“NYCB”) refusal to pay its musicians any compensation whatsoever during the 2020-21 season. The musicians of the NYCB orchestra, represented by Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, have been without any pay since June 2020 – despite the fact that NYCB had agreed on March 24, 2020, to guarantee twenty-four weeks of employment and compensation to the musicians during the 2020-21 season. NYCB management’s decision not to compensate its orchestra for the 2020-2021 season will now stand.

Arbitrator Peek sided with management on nearly every issue. He found that the twenty-four weeks of guaranteed employment, as set forth in the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA), was not a “guarantee of compensation” at all, but merely a guarantee of “performances,”
and that if there were no performances, then there is no employment for the musicians and no obligation to pay them. In other words, a guarantee of employment is not a guarantee of
compensation, suggesting that the musicians could theoretically be employed yet receive no wages, thereby rendering the contractual guarantee meaningless.

According to orchestra committee chair Ethan Silverman, “that would essentially make us a ‘per-service’ orchestra, where the musicians’ pay is dependent on the whim of management. Clearly, this ‘reasoning’ calls into question the job security ensured in our contract.”

Peek accepted management’s argument relating to “impossibility” in its entirety. NYCB claimed that the shutdown of most live theaters in New York until April 2, 2021, made it impossible to employ musicians. But, in legal terms, a critical element of the contractual defense of “impossibility” is that the event that management claims precluded performance of its obligations must have been unforeseeable at the time of the parties’ agreement. Here, NYCB
agreed to a one-year extension of the CBA – and all of its terms, including the twenty-four week guarantee – on March 24, 2020.

“The notion that the severity of the pandemic was unforeseeable on March 24 2020 is absurd,” said Local 802 President Adam Krauthamer. “NewYork City was on total lockdown and the ambulance sirens were wailing 24 hours a day. Yet NYCB now claims that it somehow did not know how bad the pandemic would be, so it wasn’t required to honor the contract.”

Restrictions on indoor theater capacity in New York were eased on April 2, 2021. NYCB could have been performing before live audiences at its Lincoln Center home, the Koch Theater, from that date forward. Yet Peek brushed that off by claiming that NYCB needed “fourteen or fifteen weeks” of preparation before it could mount a single performance. Silverman says, “That is simply false. While we acknowledge that more preparation time than usual may be required coming out of a pandemic because the Company hasn’t worked together in many months, the great dancers and musician of New York City Ballet could mount a magnificent season in a fraction of that time, as they often have in the past, and to believe otherwise is to vastly underestimate the world-class artistry and excellence of the Company’s performers.”



  • Roslyn Williams says:

    This is absolutely appalling; both that NYCB should refuse to honour their agreement and that the arbitrator should uphold that refusal! I’m utterly disgusted.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    The union can grab the funds through the courts and bankrupt the organization.

    Or they can come to some agreement about settling and keep the organization afloat.

    Depends on what they want long term and what they think is best for their musicians in the orchestra.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Wrong theater in the photo. Please don’t mislead the public.

  • NYMike says:


  • Enough says:

    This is horrible!!!! New management is weak and being used by lawyers. Same lawyers that are destroying unions and contracts next door at the Met. Shame shame shame. It’s good their music director is being so supportive of his orchestra and fighting for them so they don’t all starve. Wait!!!! He doesn’t. Those organizations have a lot more money than you think. With stock market sky rocketing their donors are giving more. But why pay the lowlife musicians? Why not pay the lawyers?

  • Hilary says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t get to NYC to see the performances, but I can’t see how this is fair to the Orchestra. They neither caused nor perpetuated the Covid pandemic. They have expenses which are complicated and exacerbated by Covid. They must be paid!

  • ACH says:

    Someone is not doing their homework! Do a spell check of the title of this article. Dont you mean “NYC Ballet does not have to pay its orchestra THROUGH Covid, not THOUGH Covid”!!

  • SMH says:

    Shameful and disgusting. They must be taking cues from Gelb. Meanwhile, the investor class was making money hand over fist. I’m sure many of their donors are on that list.

  • Blake says:

    Lincoln Center is imploding within it’s white privileged walls.

  • sam says:

    Arbitrators, you win some, you lose some.

    Why did the union negotiate for an arbitration clause to begin with if it can’t live with it?

  • JoshW says:

    Why isn’t the Music Director speaking up on behalf of his musicians? I guess because he’s on an exotic holiday in Italy – how nice that he can afford that while his players are looking at homelessness.

  • james mattimore says:

    I agree. Jim Mattimore