Santa Ana, California
October 27, 2016

The Musicians of the Pacific Symphony have unanimously rejected the employer’s recent contract offer and reaffirmed the strike authorization they had previously granted to their union leadership. Bob Sanders, President of Orange County Musicians’ Association, Local 7 of the American Federation of Musicians states “Our bargaining team wanted to reassess the position of the bargaining unit with their full knowledge of where the parties stand at the present time. The orchestra offered its support resoundingly.”

Local 7 and Pacific Symphony management have been bargaining since July to renew their Labor Agreement, which expired August 31, 2016. At issue is the musicians desire to have a predictable schedule, a guaranteed annual wage, and a contract that increases work offered. Pacific Symphony, the nation’s 22nd largest symphony orchestra by size of annual budget, currently operates with annual expenditures of approximately $20 million while providing less work and a lower wage for musicians than any other large orchestra around the country.

According to Local 7 bargaining committee chairman and Pacific Symphony violist Adam Neeley, “Pacific Symphony musicians, when compared with their colleagues who play in orchestras of similar size and scope, are the only orchestral musicians in the country who don’t have the assurance from year to year of a fixed schedule or annual wage. While our employer has offered a form of annual service guarantees, the offer on the table fails to grow work in the coming years, leaves musicians guessing when they might be called for services, and would leave the musicians exposed to possible cost-saving cuts.”

The proposed policy for scheduling services is a major point of contention for the musicians. Since its inception, Pacific Symphony’s musicians have been forced to find outside work to supplement their income. Under the terms proposed by management, those musicians hoping to play the number of services guaranteed to be offered to them, must keep dates open throughout the year for services they were not initially offered; and wait to be called. If these musicians accept other work and are subsequently unavailable, the employer proposes to punish them by reducing their guarantee. Thus, musicians who expect to earn $34,807 in the 2016-17 season could only do so by sacrificing other work in order to keep their schedules clear, and would have no way of predicting when they would be called to work.

Neeley goes on to add, “we believe the organization should be able to agree to the musicians’ proposed service guarantees without requiring substantial new dollars to the annual budget. Pacific Symphony allocates just 29% of its annual budget to the employees who carry out its very mission; the musicians of the orchestra. This is problematic and we believe the business model must begin to change in order to sustain the Symphony’s high artistic level.”

The musicians’ negotiator, Christopher Durham of the Symphonic Services Division of the American Federation of Musicians points out that “in the group of orchestras with annual budgets ranging from approximately $12 million to $30 million (Pacific Symphony’s 11 peer orchestras) Pacific’s annual budget ranks in the top 25% while the musicians’ individual wages and the percentage of the budget allotted to musician pay and benefits rank dead last. The average percentage of the budget going to musicians in all of the other orchestras is roughly 43% compared to the Pacific musicians who receive only 29%.”

Thirty-three American symphony orchestras project a budget of $10 million or more in 2016-17. All of these orchestras except Pacific Symphony guarantee their musicians an annual salary based on a weekly wage multiplied by an agreed-upon number of weeks of work. Pacific Symphony has not been willing to discuss such a structure, citing fears that not enough work can be produced, and musicians may have “unused” services at the end of the year. The musicians, in an effort to compromise, have in turn proposed incremental increases rather than demanding to be paid at their market value. Neeley, acknowledging the Pacific Symphony’s concerns, explains, “This idea of unused services has permeated the industry in recent years and Pacific Symphony’s leadership should not be misled by such fallacious arguments. Musicians are compensated for the value of their talents, their availability, and their value to the community, not for hours worked. The service counts found in musician contracts all over the country are intended to be limitations on daily and weekly work hours to prevent injury and fatigue, as musicians spend countless hours of their own time practicing and preparing for their time on stage.”

The parties have no bargaining dates set. According to Neeley, “we will perform the upcoming concert with the Pacific Chorale out of respect for our longtime relationship with them. After that, we cannot ensure how much longer we can continue to perform without a contract. We feel strongly that these serious concerns must begin to be addressed.”


Adam Neeley, Chair
Orchestra Committee
Phone: 562-270-4966
Night Line: 562-270-4966

Robert Sanders, President
Orange County Musicians’ Association
Local 7, AFM
Phone: 714-546-8166
Night Line: 818-618-9140

Musicians of the Pacific Symphony

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  1. Pingback: The Pacific Symphony is “Unsustainable?” Really? | Mask of the Flower Prince

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