The New York Philharmonic, which has been hit by a pandemic that will keep its concert hall dark for at least 15 months, announced on Monday that its musicians have agreed to a four-year deal that includes significant pay cuts.
As part of the new contract, the musicians will cut 25 percent of their base salary by August 2023. The salary will then be gradually increased until the contract ends in September 2024. At this point, however, players are still being paid less than they were before the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, the wages of the musicians will amount to more than 20 million US dollars, said the chairman of the negotiating committee of the players in a press release.
The deal makes it clear that the performing arts institutions expect their financial troubles to continue even as the pandemic subsides in the coming months. The Philharmonic believes the 2020-21 season cancellation will result in a loss of $ 21 million in ticket revenue, on top of $ 10 million lost in the final months of the previous season this spring . But even if the live performances resume, the box office can’t be expected to recover quickly.
The new contract is a continuation of the short-term wage cuts that the musicians of the Philharmonic Orchestra agreed on earlier during the pandemic. As of May, the musicians have received roughly 75 percent of the base salary, which is roughly $ 2,200 a week. During the course of the contract, some musicians also receive gradually increasing percentages of their seniority payments and an “overestimation” of the amount they receive above their base salary.
The pandemic has put relationships between arts institutions and their workers to the test as executives insist on wage cuts and other concessions to make up for lost revenue accumulated over months in darkened theaters. In many orchestras, musicians have agreed to short-term wage cuts while they cannot play live concerts. But only with certain organizations, like the Philharmonic, have union agreements expired in a year when the institutions are under such pressure.
“Those were challenging negotiations,” said Deborah Borda, president and chief executive officer of the orchestra, in the press release, “but in the end musicians, management and the board came together to reach an agreement that will lead to a recovery.”
Trombonist Colin Williams, chairman of the Players’ Negotiating Committee, said in the press release: “Recognizing the challenges of this time, we have done our part to maintain the institution by giving up more than $ 20 million in wages.”
The cuts the musicians agreed to are similar to those requested at the Metropolitan Opera, which has called for several of its major unions to cut 30 percent wages until the box office hits pre-pandemic revenue. From this point on, the cuts will be reduced to 15 percent. For the Philharmonic, the cuts in the last year of the new contract will shrink to 10 percent. The deal also includes bonus payments from 2022 if the orchestra’s financial performance exceeds expectations, as well as a provision for up to 10 Sunday performances per season. (The Met introduced regular Sunday matinees last year.)
The tension at the Met was much higher than at the Philharmonie. Around 1,000 full-time employees at the opera company, including its world-class orchestra and choir, have been on leave without pay since April, and the Met says they will only receive paychecks during the pandemic if they agree to long-term cuts.