802 and American Ballet Theatre Reach Four-Year Agreement

New Freelance Opera/Ballet Scales Established

Volume CI, No. 6June, 2001

David Lennon

On May 4, musicians of the American Ballet Theatre orchestra overwhelmingly ratified a new four-year contract, by a vote of 51-2. ABT’s prior agreement with Local 802 expired on March 31, and negotiations for a new agreement had begun in mid-February. The ABT negotiations are especially important since they have been used in the past to establish industrywide freelance Opera/Ballet scales in the New York area.

Local 802’s goal in these talks was to close the gap in compensation between the New York City Ballet and ABT orchestras. This was achieved in several ways. New York City Ballet currently pays musicians $1,450 for a six-performance week, a figure scheduled to increase to $1,500 in September 2001, in the final year of their contract. Musicians of the ABT orchestra will receive a substantial 11 percent wage increase over the first year of their contract, raising the weekly performance wage from the current level of $1,350 for a seven-performance week to $1,400 in the Met 2001 season and then to $1,500 in October 2001, prior to the fall City Center season.

This wage will hold through the agreement’s second year and will rise to $1,550 in the third year and $1,600 in the fourth year. The hourly rehearsal wage will increase each year: to $39, $42, $43 and then $45.

The contract also introduces a new provision establishing a system of seniority pay. Beginning in the third year, musicians’ weekly wages will be increased to reflect their years of service in the organization under a formula which provides $2 per week for each year of service, in five-year increments. This will amount to an additional $20 to $50 on top of the weekly wage for many musicians.


They will also receive a substantial improvement in pension benefits. The current employer contribution of 13.5 percent will rise in 2001 to 14 percent, and to 14.5 percent, 15 percent and 16 percent in each of the following years.

Securing adequate health coverage for musicians in the event of extended sick leave and serious illness was another major issue successfully addressed in this negotiation. Musicians fulfilling the annual attendance requirement already receive Local 802’s Plan A coverage in the first six months of the year and Plan B in the second six months, with the employer picking up the shortfall to Plan A from a pool of $8,500, which is now increased to $9,000.

In the fourth year of the new agreement, the employer will begin providing a catastrophic medical insurance policy, with a lifetime benefit of up to two million dollars, for all rostered musicians. Furthermore, the contract stipulates that, until that policy is in place, the employer will maintain Plan A health coverage for any musician on extended sick leave.

The security this coverage provides is especially meaningful to this orchestra, since one musician has already been in this unfortunate position. It should be noted that ABT management had indeed extended Plan A health coverage to this individual. Now, under the new agreement, all musicians will be similarly protected until the catastrophic medical insurance policy takes effect.

Other additions in the new contract include: a guarantee of designated dress rehearsals, which are paid at performance rates, as opposed to Friends of American Ballet Theatre dress rehearsals, which are paid at normal rehearsal rates; a phase-in of the full orchestra from piano accompaniment, by 2002, for ABT Kids performances; and an increase in the orchestra complement from 58 to 59 by adding third flute to the Schedule A roster.

Side letters to the agreement stipulate that management will make continued efforts to improve working conditions, both at the Met and backstage at City Center, and that the committee will have meaningful participation on any Conductor Search Committee. Management also agreed to make best efforts to schedule rehearsals no earlier than 10:30 a.m., and has already rescheduled several rehearsals in the first season to reflect that effort.

ABT orchestra committee members Frank Donaruma (chair), Maureen Hynes, Mark Johansen, Tom Olcott, Karen Purpura and Bernadette Zirkuli, assisted by Local 802 legal counsel Leonard Leibowitz and Assistant Director and Concert Department Supervisor David Lennon, were the union’s team at the bargaining table. The committee’s experience, dedication and thorough involvement throughout the negotiation had a clear impact on its successful outcome.

On May 15 the Local 802 Executive Board adopted the ABT contract provisions as the new industry-wide freelance Opera and Ballet wage scales. A full listing will appear in next month’s Allegro.