Musicians of the DCINY Orchestra rallying in front of Lincoln Center in November 2022


October 23, 2023

The musicians of the Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Orchestra have won their first union agreement, announced the NYC musicians’ union (AFM Local 802). Their victory comes after four years of negotiations.

“The strength of our orchestra’s solidarity is what allowed us to achieve a contract that we are all proud of,” said the musicians’ negotiating committee, in a statement. “By leading a transparent negotiation, open to all members of our orchestra, our colleagues felt empowered to bravely participate in numerous strategic actions that forced management to move on their proposals. Our union’s greatest strength is its members and we hope that our success will serve as an example of how all NYC musicians can improve their working conditions by unionizing and fighting together.”

Highlights of the five-year agreement, which was unanimously ratified by the musicians, include:

  • A new, higher engagement wage with annual raises, for a total wage increase of 13.5 percent over the life of the contract
  • Extra pay for first-chair musicians as well as musicians who double on more than one instrument
  • Bonuses if a concert is livestreamed or if a video of the concert is posted
  • Contributions to the musicians’ health fund and pension plan
  • A defined hiring list and a transparent hiring procedure
  • A fair procedure to handle grievances and dismissals

The orchestra’s journey towards a union contract began in 2019, when musicians in the orchestra organized, stood together and won the first step of union recognition with their employer, Distinguished Concerts International New York, a for-profit company that produces concerts at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. A tumultuous four years followed – including a strike – as musicians fought tooth and nail to get the contract they deserved.

Support came from elected leaders like State Senator Jessica Ramos, who heads the state senate labor committee. At the musicians’ February 2023 rally outside Carnegie Hall, Ramos said, “Musicians should be afforded a life of dignity for bringing us so much joy and beauty to all of our lives, especially right now, at a time when we’re so desperately trying to recover from the past few years. We want good jobs for every single worker, including our musicians,”

At the musicians’ 2022 rally outside Lincoln Center, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said, “I’m here to stand with you in your fight for a decent contract. You deserve the security of a pension and retirement. You deserve health care like every American. You deserve a salary that allows you to pay for housing and other needs for your family. This is not too much to ask. I am here to stand with you as long as it takes to get a fair contract!”

Support also came from celebrities like Mandy Patinkin, who showed up outside the musicians’ picket line in June 2023. At the rally, Patinkin said, “We are here to support the DCINY Orchestra Musicians for their job security, health and pension benefits, fair wages and basic worker rights.” [watch full clip here]. At the same picket line, the cast of Saturday Night Live’s “Please Don’t Destroy” came out in support. [See photo below.]

Local 802 Recording Vice President Harvey Mars, who led the negotiations on behalf of the union, said: “I am so proud of this orchestra and negotiating committee. They worked hard, won union recognition, endured a strike and unfair labor practices, and ultimately negotiated a great contract. None of this was easy, and the orchestra should be very satisfied with the result. Bravo!”

The musicians’ negotiating committee included:

  • Andy Blanco (percussion)
  • Tallie Brunfelt (violin)
  • Ryan Fisk (bass trombone)
  • Aaron Korn (horn)
  • Jeremy Levine (timpani)
  • Masha Polishchuk (violin)
  • Sean Ritenauer (percussion)
  • Erich Schoen-Rene (cello)
  • Cynthia Smith (violin)

AFM Local 802 represents thousands of highly skilled musicians who drive New York City’s thriving cultural and tourism economy. Its members — who perform on Broadway, at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and Radio City, in recording studios, as teaching artists, on late-night TV shows and in other televised bands, in hotels, clubs, festivals and venues across NYC — are protected by collective bargaining agreements ensuring proper classification, fair treatment and a living wage. For more background on Local 802, click here.

Mandy Patinkin (left) and the cast of Saturday Night Live’s “Please Don’t Destroy” (along with Local 802 Recording Vice President Harvey Mars) at the musicians’ June 2023 picket line outside of DCINY’s concert at Carnegie Hall