The unionized musicians of the New York City Ballet Orchestra are ramping up their contract fight ahead of the opening of their fall season Sept. 19.
Last week the ballet’s musicians, represented by AFM Local 802, voted to authorize a strike after their contract expired at the end of August. As the clock keeps ticking to opening night, the musicians are advocating for a wage increase that factors the ways that the pandemic depressed their income.
“We urge the ballet to do the right thing and offer a fair proposal to its musicians that makes up for the sacrifices they were forced to endure during the pandemic, as well as staggering inflation. We’ll do everything in our power to assist these courageous musicians in their fight for the dignity and respect they deserve,“ said newly appointed Local 802 President Sara Cutler.
The union says that a salary increase needs to compensate for the musicians working without pay for 15 months during the pandemic, taking a 15 percent pay cut in its 2021 contract, and currently working for 9 percent below their 2019 compensation. It says that the proposals so far include “significant healthcare concessions.”
The negotiations provide a window for Local 802 to get back some of what the musicians lost during the pandemic. The musicians were out of work from June 2020 to September 2021, and when they returned they agreed to a 15 percent pay cut to support the ballet through that uncertain time.
“They were frankly scared of losing the job entirely, and that led to them taking what was honestly a pretty raw deal for them,” said Dan Point, Local 802’s Chief of Staff.
The musicians’ wages have come up slightly from that dip in 2021, but the union said the orchestra musicians are still being paid roughly 9 percent less than in 2019. So factoring in inflation over the past several years, it estimates that their purchasing power is actually 23 percent less than pre-pandemic.
“The math doesn’t make sense for our folks. That’s really what it comes down to,” Point said.
The negotiations have been focused not just on getting parity to the musicians’ pre-pandemic wages but increases that will account for inflation. Additionally they’re trying to stop the ballet from passing on any additional healthcare costs to workers in the contract.
Meanwhile, the fiscal fears that were on the table last time the contract was up for debate have dissipated. According to the union, the ballet’s finances are healthy. Ticket sales have exceeded pre-pandemic levels, fundraising is robust, and the ballet’s endowment is strong.
The ballet did not respond to LaborPress before deadline.
Musicians are asking the public to sign their public petition st actionnetwork.org/petitions/nycballet/. They will be holding a rally for a fair contract outside of the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 19 to coincide with the opening night of the ballet’s 2023 season that will bring together live music and elected officials.
“They deserve a contract that allows them to work with dignity and enjoy affordable healthcare for themselves and their family. Instead, they are not being offered the wages and benefits they deserve and are instead being asked to make financial concessions once again. This is insulting and unacceptable, and musicians are fighting back,” said AFM President Tino Gagliardi.