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Home » Officer Columns » Musicians Everywhere Are Standing Up and Standing Together

Musicians Everywhere Are Standing Up and Standing Together

  -  AFM International President

As we prepared to go to press with this issue we learned the shocking news that the board of directors of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (KWS) had decided to suspend operations and that the orchestra would not begin its 2023-2024 season as planned. This decision was announced to musicians and the press almost simultaneously. It was mere days before the musicians were due to report for their first services of the season. Days later, the institution filed for bankruptcy protection.

Going dark and putting musicians out of work was a particularly surprising course of action for an organization that had inked a modestly progressive new collective agreement with Local 226 (Kitchener, ON) just weeks earlier. Now, it appears the musicians may never work under that agreement and the future of symphonic music in Kitchener-Waterloo has been rendered uncertain.

KWS leadership says it would have needed at least an additional $2 million to proceed with the season. But prior to its eleventh-hour announcement, there was no indication from the KWS board and management that the season was in jeopardy and no attempt to launch the kind of aggressive “save our symphony” fundraising campaign that might have averted this crisis. How is it possible that an organization can be negotiating a progressive agreement one minute and suddenly be in such dire straits the next, without the musicians or the community having any inkling until the shutdown? The answer is a deeply troubling lack of transparency.

The lack of transparency that fostered the situation in Kitchener-Waterloo is hardly unique to that orchestra and exists even when institutions are flush with cash. The musicians of the New York City Ballet (NYCB) are currently engaged in their own struggle for a fair contract but dealing with an employer that has steadfastly refused to share financial information with the musicians’ bargaining team and Local 802 (New York City).

Meanwhile, the company is resisting the musicians’ requests for post-COVID salary restoration and increases to keep pace with record inflation and is attempting to saddle musicians with a much bigger bill for health care. Celebrating the opening of its 75th anniversary season, the company has touted its robust organizational health. The New York Times recently reported that NYCB’s budget for the fiscal year that ended in June was about $91 million, compared with $88 million before the pandemic. Contributions and grants have risen from $26 million in 2019 to about $30 million last year. And audiences last season were back at prepandemic levels.

As of this writing, the musicians of the Chicago Symphony and Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) have reached an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with their management. It appears that the management of the San Francisco Symphony narrowly averted a strike by finally hammering out an acceptable deal with the musicians and Local 6 (San Francisco, CA).

The musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) are still waiting for management to come to a favorable resolution to their ongoing contract talks. In the meantime, the musicians have offered a formidable show of solidarity, literally wearing their need for a fair contract on their (t-shirt) sleeves and sharing their plight with patrons through leafleting and social media campaigns. Likewise, NYCB musicians have donned “fair contract” t-shirts in the pit and hosted a demonstration on Lincoln Center Plaza, ahead of opening night.

Musicians everywhere are standing up and standing together to attain the wages and working conditions they need to have stable lives, good health, and long, satisfying careers. They are doing so in the symphonic sector. They will be doing so in theater pits across the country as we soon begin bargaining a new theater contract (Pamphlet B). And, they will do so in recording studios and sound stages as we bargain a contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) this fall—look for the Fair Share for Musicians campaign to be heating up very soon. Musicians know the value of our work and we know the importance of working in concert as we fight to get our employers to recognize and reward our value appropriately.

While the leadership of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony may have thrown up their hands and beat a hasty retreat to bankruptcy court, the musicians of the KWS have refused to back down. They are working right now to save their orchestra and to ensure the continued presence of symphonic music and symphonic musicians in their community. While the leadership of the KWS may have failed to properly steward the institution, the musicians at its heart are refusing to allow it to wither.

The KWS musicians quickly launched a GoFundMe campaign, which as of this writing, has raised nearly $350,000 from nearly 250 people. While the story of the KWS is still unfolding, the success of this campaign in such a short time demonstrates how effective musicians can be in rallying support for our art and our lives, even when our institutional leadership has thrown in the towel.

To Donate to the Musicians of KWS GoFundMe Campaign search: support-your-kwsymphony-musicians and follow the Musicians of the KW Symphony @PAKwsymphony on Facebook and Instagram for the latest updates.

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