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Home » Orchestra News » Fort Wayne Philharmonic Musicians Prevail in 13-Week Strike 

Fort Wayne Philharmonic Musicians Prevail in 13-Week Strike 


Calling their first ever strike against the Fort Wayne Philharmonic was a difficult decision but musicians, members of Local 58 (Fort Wayne, IN), who firmly believed they had no choice. Nine bargaining sessions over more than three months had failed to move the employer from its onerous bargaining positions, which included the elimination of one part-time and three full-time positions, draconian attendance policies, 28 weeks of employment, and paltry wage increases that failed even to restore musicians’ salaries to what they were in 2019. Most alarming was the employer’s proposal to expand the CBA’s management rights provision and cut a key part of the grievance procedure, thereby eliminating musicians’ rights to bargain about unforeseen issues that could arise during the term of the contract. 

Three months and one very successful strike later, musicians have a new four-year contract that preserves all contract positions and maintains their workplace bargaining rights. Their season will expand to 30 weeks by the 23-24 season and base salary will rise an average of 3.75% per year to $33,694 by 2026. 

Members of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Players Association, represented by Local 58, agreed to a new contract on March 8, following a three-month strike.  

What made this strike so successful? Preparation was a big part of it, according to AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Negotiator/Organizer/Educator Todd Jelen, who has worked with the musicians in Fort Wayne since 2020. The groundwork for this strike was laid when musicians were furloughed during most of the 2020-2021 season. During bargaining at that time, the employer sought to cut the number of contract musicians from 63 to 15, among other reductions, and sought a similar expansion of management rights.  

With Jelen’s guidance, musicians organized themselves and engaged in a number of public actions protesting the employer’s bargaining stance, culminating in a rally that took place on May 1, 2021. Later that month, musicians and management reached a deal on a 14-month contract that did not include reductions in complement or changes to management rights.  

Even as that contract settlement was reached, musicians knew that the next round of bargaining would be at least as challenging and they began to prepare almost immediately. Jelen noted, “The organizing infrastructure for this strike was built from the musicians’ efforts in 2020 and 2021, and they successfully maintained their solidarity and organization through the next round of negotiations.”  

Because the musicians were well-organized heading into December 2022, they were able to quickly produce their own holiday concerts, which played to packed houses and took the place of Philharmonic concerts that were canceled due to the strike. These concerts, and others the musicians produced as the strike went on, garnered a tremendous amount of public support. The musicians’ organizing efforts also drove their frequent pickets throughout the strike. These pickets were well-attended not only by the Fort Wayne musicians themselves and their community supporters, but also by musicians from surrounding communities and—thanks to Local 58’s alliance with the Hoosier Heartland Area Labor Federation—representatives from unions in other industries. 

Messaging was also key. Because the parties had actually reached agreement on wages by early January, the resolution of the strike ended up hinging primarily on management’s insistence on—and ultimate surrender of—its position on management rights. “It’s not often that a strike is driven by what might appear to be a relatively abstract ideological issue,” observes AFM SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick. “The orchestra committee in Fort Wayne did a phenomenal job of making that issue concrete for their colleagues and for the community at large.” The committee was comprised of Campbell MacDonald (chair), Kirk Etheridge, Dennis Fick, Anne Lewellen, Pavel Morunov, Eric Schweikert, and Deb Welter. 

The musicians worked hard to develop contacts with print, radio, and TV. During the strike, when musicians held events, the press was invited—and showed up. In addition to getting their own message out to the public, the musicians fought to counter management disinformation. “We zeroed in on management’s obfuscation of facts. Staying on point and countering their spin by driving our message were the key to rallying public support,” says committee chair MacDonald. 

MacDonald credits his colleagues’ unity and resolve, describing them as “rock solid” in their determination to beat back management’s unacceptable proposals, paying musicians a base wage of just over $22,000 in the 2021-2022 season.  

Fort Wayne has long taken pride in the quality of its orchestra, and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic plays an essential role in the city’s future. In 2021, the city released its economic development plan calling Fort Wayne and Allen County a Top 10 “Music City.” Maintaining the vitality of Fort Wayne’s professional symphony orchestra is essential to that vision.  

The Philharmonic resumed performing on March 24 with the production of Swan Lake with the Fort Wayne Ballet. The orchestra’s season, which will continue as scheduled, begins April 13 with its Bach in the Barn series.