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September 19, 2023IM -
On the opening night of the ballet’s 2023 season, the Musicians of the New York City Ballet Orchestra (NYCB) organized a rally outside of Lincoln Center. Hundreds of musicians and supporters took to the sidewalks to demonstrate their support.
The NYCB musicians’ contract has expired, and they are demanding compensation for the sacrifices they have made over the past four years. The musicians, who are represented by Local 802 (New York City), have voted to authorize a strike if negotiations break down.
Sticking points in negotiations include management’s failure to agree to a wage adjustment that would compensate the musicians for going without pay for 15 months; musicians taking a 15% pay cut in 2021; and currently working for nearly 9% less than 2019 compensation. With more than 15% inflation, their purchasing power is 23% less than in 2019, according to Local 802 President Sara Cutler. Management’s recent contract offer also includes raising health care premiums.
Cutler explained, “During the pandemic, ballet management didn’t pay its musicians for more than a year, from June 2020 to September 2021. This led to many workers doing the unthinkable for them—leaving the city. Some who left for the suburbs, other states, and even Europe, never returned. The hardships we faced were many, especially given the fact that we had no pay for more than a year.”
“Musicians of the New York City Ballet deserve a contract that allows them to work with dignity and enjoy affordable health care for themselves and their families. They are not being offered the wages and benefits they deserve and are instead being asked to make financial concessions once again,” says AFM President Tino Gagliardi.
In the meantime, fiscal fears of the last contract have dissipated. NYCB is experiencing record-breaking fundraising and ticket sales. During the pandemic, musicians were not paid, but the ballet had a robust endowment worth $263 million and received more than $10 million in pandemic support from the government.
Bassoonist Ethan Silverman, who chairs the musicians’ negotiating committee, says, “When our audiences come to the ballet, they expect that the creative workers who make the magic happen will be treated fairly. But since ballet management is not offering us a fair contract, despite months of bargaining, we have taken our message to the public.”