Florida Orchestra agrees to pay musicians more, explores summer concerts

Florida Orchestra assistant principal clarinet Erika Shrauger, left, and principal clarinet Brian Moorhead, right, new retired, rehearse at Morsani Hall Wednesday, May 17, 2017. LARA CERRI   |   Times
Florida Orchestra assistant principal clarinet Erika Shrauger, left, and principal clarinet Brian Moorhead, right, new retired, rehearse at Morsani Hall Wednesday, May 17, 2017. LARA CERRI | Times
Published May 31, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — First, the good news for Florida Orchestra musicians — a 12-percent raise.

A new collective bargaining agreement increases musicians' base pay from $35,282 to $40,040 over three years, the orchestra said Wednesday. The agreement between the management and the American Federation of Musicians union takes effect Sept. 1.

Second, the context. The new base salary lags well behind top metropolitan orchestras, such as the $159,016 base pay for Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians or $166,400 at the San Francisco Symphony when those contracts take effect later this year. Base pay does not reflect the salaries of principal musicians or endowed chairs, nor does it reflect raises for veteran musicians.

The agreement also opens the door to summer concerts starting in 2019.

"Maintaining our musicians and attracting new ones has to remain paramount for the organization," orchestra president and CEO Michael Pastreich said. "It's one of the reasons why the board has been driving forward the increases in salary over the last decade. In theory, those increases have significantly improved or transformed what we bring to the Tampa Bay area."

The orchestra attributes its rosier financial outlook to robust fundraising, including more than $1.5 million for the 50th anniversary gala featuring Sting, and a 45 percent increase in paid attendance since 2009.

The new contract tweaks the schedule from 31 work weeks to 33 and restores two weeks of paid vacation, something musicians have not had since 2009. Over the next three years, its number of full-time musicians will increase by two, a horn player and another position to be determined.

The parties finalized the agreement three months before the Aug. 31 deadline, when the current contract year expires.

"At certain points the talks took on a cooperative tone, and we worked together to find solutions that put us on a pathway to being a bigger and better organization, which is what I think Tampa Bay deserves and wants," said Andrew Karr, a French horn player who heads a committee representing the musicians.

That doesn't mean musicians agree on everything, either with management or each other. For example, in recent years the orchestra has greatly increased the number and frequency of its community outreach concerts, free and sometimes unannounced performances in malls and airports, or playing in hospital wings for terminally ill children.

"The number of people we serve through community engagement activities is a world apart from half a decade ago," Pastreich said. He maintains most musicians enjoy the opportunity.

Hours worked fall under the "service units" by which musician pay is structured.

"The contract outlines what constitutes a service and how many we are allowed to have," Karr said. "All the work we do, including those outreach services, all takes place under the framework of the collective bargaining agreement."

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On the issue of making community outreach part of a musician's job, Karr said, "We have 66 people with varied opinions and strong feelings about some things. Individuals varied, but we agreed as a unit."

Next season could extend past May. The agreement allows the orchestra to explore summer concerts, possibly outdoors, in venues yet to be determined, Pastreich said. Both sides say they are encouraged by reaching consensus.

"These days it's not always normal to come to an agreement early," Karr said. "Sometimes when you talk about an agreement, it's about everybody being equally unhappy. We feel we area headed toward a positive direction we can all share."

He acknowledged that most musicians still need to teach or work side jobs, but said it's part of the package.

"We may work more than we wish to make ends meet, but at the same time I think we're all committed to education," Karr said.

Higher payouts mean even more effort is needed for fundraising and finding ways to raise revenue. For example, to stay on track, the orchestra must raise $900,000 by the end of June, Pastreich said.

"One of my baseline philosophies in life which I take as an ultimate truth is that communities give organizations — whether orchestras, airlines or banks — the resources they deserve," Pastreich said. "If we don't have the resources we need, it means we haven't demonstrated we deserve them. So we remain focused on being as highly relevant as humanly possible."

Contact Andrew Meacham at or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.