Philadelphia Orchestra Musicians Showcase Solidarity In Union Shirts

By Francisco Salazar

On August 11, the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra created a blue sea of solidarity as they took the stage in royal blue union t-shirts, a remarkable show of strength and unity as contract negotiations between Local 77 of the American Federation of Musicians and Philadelphia Orchestra Kimmel Center, Inc (“POKC”) intensify.

At the event every single Orchestra member wore their Local 77 t-shirt during the open rehearsal as well as Music and Artistic Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and soloist Bruce Liu.

In the negotiations, Philadelphia’s musicians are seeking comparable compensation with their peer musicians in other premier American orchestras, improvements in their retirement benefits, fair pay for freelance musicians who play in the Orchestra on an as-needed basis, improved leave and scheduling protections, and the filling of 15 vacant positions in the Orchestra.

Currently, the musicians are unwilling to continue to accept the status quo, particularly as the Orchestra accepted nearly $30 million in federal and state financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the musicians each took a pay cut of over $50,000. In 2021, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association merged with Kimmel Center, Inc. This newly-created entity has logged a $17.4 million surplus over the past two years.

In a statement, Ellen Trainer, president of the Philadelphia Musicians’ Union Local 77 said, “The Philadelphia Orchestra is the most recognized musical institution in the world, and it’s time its musicians are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. Years of pay inequities, slashed benefits, and unfair treatment have diminished and jeopardized the people who make every performance possible, including freelance musicians who fill in as substitutes. We know this organization has the ability to provide a fair contract. Musicians are standing firm so that every member and every substitute musician is treated fairly, and the Orchestra can reach its full potential for years to come.”