Florida Orchestra musicians strike deal on salaries

ST. PETERSBURG

Florida Orchestra musicians have ratified a modification of their labor contract that will amount to a 5.5 percent cut in pay they were to receive this season.

"The world has changed drastically in the last year," said president Michael Pastreich, citing the recession's impact on orchestra finances as the reason for renegotiating the contract.

"We recognized that the contract called for more of an increase than the orchestra could responsibly make," said bass trombonist Harold Van Schaik, chairman of the orchestra musicians committee. "In essence, it's a pay freeze."

This was to be the third year of a three-year labor contract that called for base pay of $30,390, but instead the base will be $28,800 for 31 weeks, roughly the same as last season. The negotiations added two years to the agreement, through the 2011-12 season. Pay will increase to a base of $32,000 for 34 weeks in the final year. Pension and health benefits were also renegotiated.

Principal players make more than scale under the contract, and most orchestra members individually negotiate salaries over scale. The contract covers 76 full-time musicians.

Negotiations began in early September, and musicians completed voting Thursday. Longtime orchestra members have been through it all before, with previous contract revisions that meant less pay than promised.

"It feels like Groundhog Day," said Van Schaik, though he characterized the talks as agreeable under the circumstances. "If one has to go through a renegotiation, this was a textbook of how it should be done."

The revised contract will save $250,000 this season. "We have been able to keep our commitment to full programming," Pastreich said. "We're still doing Mahler Three with its massive forces." Mahler's Third Symphony, to be performed Oct. 23-25, will have 98 players.

Symphony orchestras around the country have been renegotiating musicians' contracts. The pay cuts have been as high as 19 percent, at the Charlotte Symphony in North Carolina.

Florida Orchestra musicians, off during the summer, return for a first rehearsal Wednesday at Mahaffey Theater and season-opening masterworks concerts Friday through Oct. 11.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

Florida Orchestra musicians strike deal on salaries 10/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 2, 2009 9:26pm]

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