CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 30, 2016

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra goes on strike

Pittsburgh Business Times: Musicians from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra are now on strike, in response to a proposed 15 percent pay cut, pension freezes and reduction in the number of musicians.

Since February, musicians have been meeting regularly with the orchestra's management to reach a fair labor agreement, according to the Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. On Friday, they established a picket line outside Heinz Hall, home of the orchestra, according to a release.

13 comments:

Lia Jennings said...

I don’t know much about the musician’s union but I would think that all those cuts and changes would greatly affect each person. I can see why they decided to go on strike. I wonder what this does to rehearsals and future performances? Does this mean that if they settle and do come back eventually that the next orchestra performance will be affected by them not working during this time? Do these musicians work on other shows under the same contract so do those shows lose money as well? Would Heinz center then hire other musicians during this time period that aren’t part of the union? I am curious about how much this affects everyone around them. I am intrigued to see the picket line. I have never seen one in person before and I would like to see it. I think they have every right to strike and I hope they get what they want.

Rebecca Meckler said...

It always a shame when music or theater companies run on such a deficit that the can’t function.
I know that the arts need to be accessible for all, but the musicians also need to be able to support themselves and their families. Its also a shame that the Pittsburgh Symphony is losing funding from the state and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. It’s important that we fund the arts because funding the arts creates jobs for people not in the arts. When you start a orchestra, theater company, art museum or any arts business you need business people to run the company, accountants to keep the books, advertising agents to help with marketing, and dozens of more examples in addition to the artists. However, if you start an advertising agency, though you still need all of the business people, but you now have not employed the artist. I hope that the musicians and the managers come to an agreement that everyone can live with because there is no way to win in this situation.

Vanessa Ramon said...

It always amazes me that businesses of such caliber or really any business at all, can find themselves in such dire financial situations. I am sure each business has several people in their financial department and the problem was probably pretty relevant to many people for quite a while. of course, I am not an expert on this sort of thing, but you can't just wake up one day look at your computer and realize that your company is 11 million dollars in debt. The article does mention however that the orchestra is loosing a lot of funding and the main source of income for non profit businesses is the grants and governmental aid. still, the fact that the orchestra musicians have been hit the hardest and fastest by these changes is very unfair. I feel like the orchestra should provide the musicians a more gradual change. I understand that the orchestra is in a very tough position, but if anyone deserves mercy, it should be the musicians.

Alex Fasciolo said...

This is the article that I was looking out for this week, because like many (particularly in our school, but certainly around the world) music, and especially classical music, has helped to form who I am today. I played, throughout grade school, the viola in the school symphony orchestra. For the majority of that time (I think from 5th grade until I graduated high school) I was also a member of the local youth symphony (the Norwalk Youth Symphony, of which both my father and uncle had participated in when they were of that age, and of which my grandfather also served as chair around the same time). The symphony, much like the theatre, is a family and a community, brought together by a common goal. I think that it’s a damn shame that, as so often happens with the arts, a managing company thinks that they can suddenly and justly slash wages and benefits, and furthermore, there’s a portion of the audience base that agrees with the decision on the grounds that the performance they had tickets to had been cancelled due to a strike. If a company in another industry proposed such cuts, and it impacted the quality of the product they provided, would we be sympathetic to the corporate position? I don’t think so. I don’t see how it should be any different just because these people work in an artistic field. These people are workers, skilled laborers, who in many cases have dedicated the better portion of their lives to refining their craft. They are trained professionals who’s livelihood hinges upon their paycheck, and their retirement plan, just like any other trained professional. They shouldn’t be stiffed.

Angel Zhou said...

About a year ago, I watched a documentary about the journalism industry; the documentary focused in particular on the New York Times. The issue with journalism—a problem that is still very much relevant—is our American society is getting so used to free journalism through online sources that print media is no longer capable of surviving or bringing in the funding to conduct the same in-depth reporting that it used to do. So, the New York Times had to cut down majorly on its workforce and re-vamp its marketing strategy by sneaking small online payments in if an audience wants to read an entire article, etc. (online subscriptions). This angered the population since the internet is largely thought to be free, so the New York Times instead continued to struggle to bring in revenue, which in turn displaced writers and lowered the quality of the writings that the paper produced.

I believe something similar is happening here. With the popularity of Youtube, Spotify, Pandora, and other music applications, live classical music has become less popular. As a result, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has cumulated a massive amount of debt and is now taking out its financial woes on its musicians. While this is agreeably very unfair to the musician, who are rightfully on strike, this touches on a much bigger issue of our electronically-inclined society. While computers and technology have been producing more jobs, these jobs take a much higher educational skill and financial stability to practice and learn than certain other professions. E.g., a musician does not rely on a degree to be an incredible performer, whereas a computer scientist must take at least four years of expensive education to do what he/she does. This means that poorer families have more difficulty breaching financially stable professions, and richer families who can afford top-notch schools may discourage their kids from going into artistic professions.

This is an issue. We should not be discouraging art—rather, we should be encouraging it on a holistic scale. Performers should not need to be famous to earn large sums of money. As a society, we need to fight back and support our performers so that they can be paid for the work, passion, and effort they put in to their professions.

Alexa James-Cardenas (ajamesca@andrew.cmu.edu) said...

I actually researched Heinz Hall for my first basic design project, and it is definitely a place I really want to see a concert. So when I saw the title I got really worried. After reading, I feel a little conflicted. One think that was written was the fact that the PSO management believes that without the cuts in wages or any change to the overall financials in the PSO, they would have no choice but to shut down, as soon as mid-2017. That sentence really frightened me, and if that was definitely the case, then of course a change is necessary. On the other hand, you are about to make a 15 percent wage cut, a pension plan freeze, and those who don’t get the wage cut get laid off. Now the laid off portion is something that happens to a lot business, but I feel like that is like a last resort choice in order to maintain your current status. The additional cuts, pension freeze seems a little extreme, and it means that the remaining musicians will have to alter their lives, in order to work there. At that point, if I were a musician and these cuts were going to harmfully change my life, I rather just look for other opportunities that would be a better fit. I’m also wondering, what could have happened or not happened within the last years that put the PSO in this position, since this is the first time in a really long time sense the musicians have gone on strike. I really hope this is figured out, and the management reconsiders a negotiation with the union.

Liz said...

This is a really depressing article to read. With the wage cut and the pension plan freeze, the members in Pittsburgh Symphony will undergo a set of direct and indirect struggles with basically their life. But this is not the saddest part. If what the orchestra management said about the $11 million debt, the $1 million decline in state funding, and another $400,000 loss in subsidy from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in the next fiscal year, the orchestra is facing some dead serious problems. I wonder why the situation has become this severe. I agree with one previous comment that people have become so used to free music on the internet that they stop paying and going out for a concert. This is probably one of the main reasons why the industry was hurt so bad.
However, the cut in state funding and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is absolutely hard to watch. I do not believe there needs to be any advocate for the significance of funding support for art especially from the local government and trust fund. I can only wonder WHY. Because you don't gain monetary profits from subsiding others. Is there anything to reflect upon among the musicians themselves? I don't know. But I truly hope that the management and the orchestra can at least get back to the table and negotiate in good faith.

Ben McCormack said...

With an existing debt of 11 million and a deficit of 1.5 million Im beginning to wonder if there aren't bigger financial problems at play here. Sure, the cut in funding from the state is unfortunate and the loss of a subsidy from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is unfortunate, but that doesn't seem to be the root of the financial woes for the symphony. The loss of a subsidy from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is also concerning, do they have a lack of funds on their end or is there something that the symphony may have done to lose that stream of money?

I will say that the timing of the strike is simultaneously apt and frustrating. This weekend was likely going to see a large influx of non typical symphony patrons with the music of John Williams. Now those thousands of potential patrons will see a glimpse into the struggle for long standing arts institutions to stay afloat. Hopefully it doesn't turn them off from the symphony all together.

John Yoerger said...

What is the point in striking and fighting for a different contract proposal if they'll be out of a job entirely next year due to bankruptcy? Maybe the strike will be a good thing. The PSO should enjoy the time off that their employees are taking (we'll call it that) to work on finding financial solutions in other areas as well. Where else can they trim the fat in the budget? Maybe they should just terminate all of their musicians and work on improving structural issues first and get back to the music later? Why are they in so much debt to begin with... I'd like to know what could possibly be such a money drain? The article also says the musicians are upset about the use of a "management style" that is not "effective" with non-profits. I don't understand what isn't clear to them... *there is no money* so they should probably work together to find a solution instead of pouting outside with some signs to show people walking by who certainly couldn't care less about their problems. Unless they don't want to work there, in which case they should just quit and let the other, oh I'm sure thousands of jobless musicians apply to take their place.

Kat Landry said...

This is terribly depressing for several reasons. Firstly, it is horrible that so many talented people are having to deal with the repercussions of a failing business model. I mean, really, is there nothing else they can cut before taking people's salaries, pensions, and jobs?? Secondly, I imagine that the position the company is in right now is not exactly enjoyable. Though their financial decisions clearly took a hit somewhere, to have the fate of a 120-year-old company on your hands within the next year must be terrifying. If nothing else, I can appreciate the desperation of their position in having to cut pay, pension, and jobs. I imagine this strike has sent them into pure panic. First having to deal with the fact you don't have enough money to keep the company running, then being told you no longer have an orchestra because of the steps you had to take to keep the company running? It's a terrible situation. I only hope that the company is able to find some money somewhere in order to keep the orchestra going and keep everyone paid properly.

William Lowe said...

I would be striking too if I were them, this is scary. This could be the way the article is written, but it seems like there was a lack of negotiation before the September 4th deadline to when the contracts expired. I understand the company needing to lower the operating budget in order to stay open, but this does not seem like the correct means or medium to do so. Pittsburgh prides itself on the arts, and it is an internal part of the city. That being said, there seems to be a fair amount of poor management here, which I think could explain the decline in external funding, so I question whether the issue is actually the contracts or how the company is run as a whole. I would be interested to hear comments from the board of the symphony, or the Pittsburgh cultural trust directly, in order to learn if there could be a management change in the company and what effect that would have on the company’s financial standing. The symphony tells a lot about a city and — while it may seem insignificant to the majority of its residence — is extremely important to a city which has a large arts community and stresses the importance of the arts as it transformed from a steel city into the technological arts-centric Pittsburgh we have today.

David Kelley said...

While I completely understand the musicians respond to the idea of a 15 percent pay cut and suspension of the pension plan, their organization is in deep financial trouble. Being 11 million in debt is cause for extreme concern especially adding on top of that the fact that they are losing another 1.5 million a year. I wonder if the musicians were ever told any of this is information and just didn't care in regards to negotiations. Because I don't see how the strike will be helpful to them in the long run if the orchestra is out of business and closed.

Alex Talbot said...

While I see where these musicians come from, I do wonder what the strike will actually accomplish in the long run. Although the pay cut is awful, especially for musicians who don't exactly make millions, the pay cut is in response to a major debt that the company has, and although its awful to have to cut the performers, I feel like there are few other ways to respond to such an issue. What I'm saying is that despite the supposed unfairness of this pay cut, it seems like the company is in big trouble and that cutting pay was the last resort to try to combat the huge amounts of debt. Obviously there are larger issues at play, but from a bystander's view it doesn't seem crazy. Nevertheless, I hope that the company finds a way to recover from this debt and get back on their feet.