Musicians and management of the Philadelphia Orchestra have agreed to talk and play as negotiations continue over a new labor contract, several sources say. The expiring deal was one of steep cuts crafted in 2011 under supervision of U.S. Bankruptcy Court after the Philadelphia Orchestra Association filed for Chapter 11 reorganization.
The pact was to have expired Sept. 13, but both sides agreed to an extension until 12:01 a.m. Sept. 28 - just after a concert and Mass for Pope Francis' visit, for which the orchestra is playing.
Now, with the latest round of talks having ended Friday, players and Philadelphia Orchestra Association management have agreed to talk and play beyond that date and for an unspecified period. Officials from both sides declined to comment.
Talks, which began in April, have yielded little progress, the sources said, and members of the full ensemble authorized a strike several weeks ago. Players had hoped to regain ground lost during the bankruptcy. In 2011, they reluctantly accepted a deep pay cut. Instead of receiving a scheduled raise to a minimum annual salary of $131,000, they agreed to a base of $106,000 in 2011-12, $111,800 in 2012-13, $117,000 in 2013-14, and a stepped raise in 2014-15 to $119,600, then $124,800.
That means even at the end of this contract, players are still not earning the $131,000 base minimum salary that had been set to kick in in March 2011 as part of the pre-bankruptcy contract.
Slightly more than half the players earn base minimum. The others - those with titled positions such as principal, and assistant and associate principal - earn more, and some much more.
In current talks, management has proposed a new contract with no raises, or minimal raises with cuts in health care, sources said. "We're nowhere close to actually making progress on these issues," said one source, who declined to be identified.
Musicians also would like to see the size of the ensemble restored. The 2011 deal cut the official size of the roster from 105 instrumentalists and two librarians to 95 and two.
Musicians' compensation traditionally has kept pace with that of comparably sized orchestras of New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston, but Philadelphia's current base minimum has fallen in comparison to some others, especially considering that some of those are likely to rise soon. Chicago's current base is $151,320. Musicians of the New York Philharmonic will earn at least $146,848 in September 2016. "We have to have a competitive salary," said one player here.
Orchestra management traditionally has resisted the argument for parity, countering that the cost of living in Philadelphia is lower than in those cities.
Opening night of the orchestra's 2015-16 season is Sept. 30, though the gala concert does not appear to be threatened by a strike. Talks are expected to resume after the papal visit.