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Home » Orchestra News » Solidarity All Around: Musicians Rally to Support Philharmonic Players

Solidarity All Around: Musicians Rally to Support Philharmonic Players


Fort Wayne Philharmonic musicians and many members of the community were out in full force for the May Day Rally to Restore Music outside the Allen County Courthouse. 

Musicians were furloughed in 2020, during the pandemic, but the Philharmonic has been negotiating with orchestra management for a new contract since 2019. 

Musicians came from Detroit, Dayton, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Louisville to show their support. On hand were Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) President John Michael Smith of Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN), and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) President Paul Austin of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI). In solidarity, union members came from across the state: The Hoosier Heartland Area Labor Federation, Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 4900, United Steelworkers (USW) Locals 715 and 903, United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2209, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 399, and Sheet Metal Workers Local 20. 

AFM President Ray Hair urged musicians to continue to put pressure on the Philharmonic management. “It was important for us to bring people together, bring our unions together, bring our members together,” Hair says. “The orchestra can’t survive without the support of the community. They also can’t survive without honest management.”  

Chairperson of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Players Association Campbell MacDonald says, “Musicians are dedicated to negotiating fairly and we’re continuing to work at the negotiating table to get musicians back to making music.” 

Former Philharmonic CEO Christopher Guerin, who spoke on behalf of the musicians, says, “The pandemic has hurt the performing arts as hard or harder than anything in this community.” While preserving the number of musicians and benefits is a matter of vision, he adds, “A balanced budget is not an artistic vision.”  

According to MacDonald, the Philharmonic has canceled all orchestra activities and unlawfully furloughed its musicians without pay. He says, “The Philharmonic’s latest proposal for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) would bring about the demise of the professional symphony orchestra in Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana.” 

The Philharmonic management has been charged with two unfair labor practices and has been placed on the International Unfair List. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against the Fort Wayne Philharmonic citing that its leadership has refused to bargain in good faith.  

“Before the pandemic hit, Philharmonic manager Jim Palermo was reported to have said that for the size of the city of Fort Wayne, the orchestra was too expensive, had too many musicians, and provided too much health insurance.” Hair says, “That’s when his own salary had risen to $188,000 per year. If anything is too expensive for the Philharmonic, it’s Palermo.” 

Philharmonic management has retreated from their earlier proposal to cut positions from the orchestra. They have now shifted their cuts to a proposed permanent season structure of 28 noncontiguous weeks over a 52-week period. This model presents that of sporadic, part-time work. Like a number of orchestras that have undergone cuts, programs that have served the community for decades will likely suffer and musicians will leave Fort Wayne to seek employment elsewhere.  

While they are willing to take short-term pay cuts, there is one line that the musicians will not cross. MacDonald says, “What we oppose is the Philharmonic leadership’s opportunistic and unnecessary position of permanent cuts to musicians in the orchestra.” He adds, “Every proposal musicians have made to accommodate the challenges of the pandemic over the past nine months have been met with proposals for permanent cuts to musician wages and conditions by Philharmonic management.” 

Photos: Pavel Morunov and Bryan Gibson