Philadelphia Musicians Authorize Strike Ahead of New Season

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The musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra voted on Saturday night to authorize a potential strike as negotiations over a new labor contract stalled, raising the possibility of a tense standoff just weeks before the start of a new season.

Of those who took part in the vote, 95 percent decided to authorize the strike. In a news release, members of the orchestra said that the vote was necessary because they felt the ensemble’s managers were ignoring their demands for better compensation, retirement benefits and working conditions.

“The musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra have declared that enough is enough,” Ellen Trainer, president of Local 77, the union that represents the musicians, said in a statement. “Management has shown that musicians are a cost to be contained, rather than the most important asset.”

The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Kimmel Center Inc., which as a joint entity oversee the orchestra, expressed disappointment over the musicians’ strike authorization.

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith towards a fiscally responsible agreement that ensures the musicians’ economic and artistic future,” Ashley Berke, a spokeswoman for the organization, said in a statement.

The dispute has become more heated in recent weeks as the musicians have grown more outspoken. They have asked for more generous leave policies, as well as better pay, for themselves and for freelance musicians. And they have called on the orchestra to fill 15 vacant positions.

Earlier this month, the musicians wore blue union T-shirts during an open rehearsal at the orchestra’s summer residency in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. In an unusual display of solidarity with the musicians during labor talks, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the orchestra’s music director since 2012 and a member of its administration, wore one of the shirts as well.

The Philadelphia Orchestra was hit hard by the pandemic, which forced the ensemble to cancel more than 200 concerts and lose about $26 million in ticket sales and performance fees. In 2021, the orchestra announced that it would merge with its landlord, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, as part of an effort to streamline operations and establish new sources of revenue.

Audiences have been slow to return since live performances resumed in the fall of 2021, though there have been signs of hope in recent months. Attendance last season was about 64 percent of capacity, compared with about 75 percent before the pandemic.

The orchestra has gone through other painful periods in recent decades. It declared bankruptcy in 2011 after the financial crisis, but has since balanced its budget and worked to rebuild. Despite expense cuts and bankruptcy, that has not been easy: In 2016, its musicians held a brief strike that began on the night of the orchestra’s season-opening gala.

The coming season is set to begin on Sept. 28 with a concert led by Nézet-Séguin, and featuring the star cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

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