Musicians and management of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic are in arbitration after meetings with a federal mediator failed to produce a resolution to a six-month labor dispute.
In September 2020, management canceled the orchestra’s 2020-21 season and backed out of the musicians’ contract, invoking force majeure. The next day, management offered the musicians an alternate series of concerts, like so many orchestras around the country, only without the benefit of the CBA. The five-year contract that was dissolved had been signed in April 2020—after the COVID-19 pandemic had already caused widespread closure and concert cancellations. That contract brought musicians’ annual salaries to $13,000, an increase of about 20%.
Musicians were paid in full under the terms of their new contract through July 2020, thanks to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding and a robust surplus from their 2019-20 season. The Philharmonic then set aside $150,000 for health subsidy payments and for an assistance fund to help musicians in need, and talks turned to negotiating a side letter for the 2020-21 season; however, an agreement could not be reached. In mid-September, musicians turned down a final offer on the basis that it would have left the door open for future changes to the CBA, including setting the precedent that guaranteed services not utilized by management would be unpaid and also that the entire CBA could still be canceled by force majeure at management’s sole discretion. After rejecting their offer, despite the board-designated funds to do so and in the midst of a global pandemic, the Philharmonic stopped paying even the musicians’ health subsidy.
Due to the unilateral cancellation of the musicians’ contract, Local 154 (Colorado Springs, CO) requested the Colorado Springs Philharmonic be placed on the International Unfair List. Musicians allege that the Philharmonic’s management team has used the pandemic as an excuse for its financial shortcomings, rather than seeking creative new ways to bring music to people. Prior to the pandemic, the Philharmonic already faced financial difficulties. Its predecessor organization, the Colorado Springs Symphony, filed for bankruptcy in 2003. At that time, the musicians spearheaded a quick reorganization, including accepting a decrease of 30% in their service guarantee. The current CBA would have finally brought musician compensation back to pre-bankruptcy levels, 20 years later in 2024. Since the reorganization, the Philharmonic has enjoyed enthusiastic support by the community including a doubling of total annual revenue and the establishment of a foundation to benefit the organization.