A New Deal for the Phil

Volume CVII, No. 11November, 2007

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On Sept. 26, musicians of the New York Philharmonic ratified a new contract by a vote of 87 to 9. The top priority in the negotiation was retaining parity with other premier orchestras in the United States in the areas of wages and pension.

At the beginning of the negotiation, musicians and management had diametrically opposed proposals concerning pension.

Management expressed a desire to move away from the traditional defined-benefit pension system and toward a defined-contribution system, whether a 403b – in which each musician would self-direct the investment of his or her contributions – or substitution of a 6.5 percent contribution to the AFM Pension Fund.

Musicians, however, rejected both approaches and proposed increasing the Philharmonic pension to the same $75,000 per year guarantee now enjoyed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Ultimately, the Philharmonic Society and Local 802 agreed on a package that moves pension to $63,000 per year in the first year, then $65,000, $67,000 and $70,000 in years two, three and four.

The fifth year of the contract is contingent upon finding a solution which will bring retiring musicians a $75,000 per year pension without significant additional cost to the Philharmonic. (It will likely include a more careful study of the effects of moving to the AFM Pension Fund.)

Musicians who retire at any point during the term of the agreement will receive the same pension guarantee.

“While the musicians were disappointed that our pension again fell short of our colleagues in Boston and Chicago, we were pleased that we were able to make up some of the gap while retaining the Philharmonic’s private defined-benefit plan,” committee member Ken Mirkin told Allegro. “Both sides remain confident that we will be able to achieve the $75,000 pension in a potential fifth year of our contract.”


Significant wage gains were also obtained during these negotiations in order to match the wages paid by the other top orchestras in the country.

The weekly scale wage will immediately increase to $2,280, a $100 weekly raise.

In future years the weekly scale will be $2,380, $2,495, $2,595 and $2,700 if the fifth contract year comes to fruition.

Extra services and longevity pay will increase by the same percentages.


To meet the challenge of healthcare costs, the musicians agreed to continue the cost-target system which has been in effect for a number of years at the Philharmonic.

An agreed figure is set aside each year, with an increase of 5 percent in each year of the contract.

If healthcare costs go above that figure, musicians must share the increase with a cap of $20 per week per musician.

The initial figure for healthcare was set at $2,079,382 in the first year of the agreement.

Changes were also made to retiree healthcare.

Each retiree age 62 or older with ten years of service will receive $2,000 per year for the rest of his or her life to help in the purchase of a Medicare supplement policy. This is in place of the former insurance policy with a $30,000 lifetime cap – which had been exceeded by a number of retirees.

Musicians who retire at 62 may use the $2,000 toward a buy-in into the Philharmonic plan until they reach 65.


Some concessions in work rules were agreed to in the contract.

Management may schedule five concerts in a subscription week – without an extra concert payment.

The Philharmonic may also schedule two fundraising concerts over the term of the contract, in addition to pension fund benefit concerts, but only one may be in any contract year.


Certain conditions for touring were also relaxed, provided that the management obtains the agreement of the tour committee.

For example, the tour committee can agree to more than two consecutive days of inter-city travel in a seven-day period on tour, two additional days of touring per year, or to allow two tours with fewer than 28 days at home.

Once each tour, the management will be able to schedule six services in a week – five concerts maximum – to accommodate a change in conductor.

Break days following tours were reduced in some cases, provided the tour is followed by a free day or a vacation.

Domestic per diem was increased to $112 per day immediately and to $116 in the fourth year.

The contract was also changed to require that run-out overtime is paid to everyone on the service – whether they take the official transportation or not.


Discussions were held on the scheduling of the ninth week of vacation.

Starting in the second year of the agreement, that vacation week will either be a dark week or a split orchestra week.

There were also concessions made to encourage the creation of a contemporary music series in split orchestra weeks.

In the case of any contemporary ensemble in split weeks, there will be a maximum of two concerts and six rehearsals, and only musicians involved in extra rehearsals will receive the extra rehearsal rate.

Those musicians who volunteer to play in contemporary music ensembles of 10 or fewer will also receive a chamber music payment.


One concern which came to light during the negotiations was the planned renovation of Avery Fisher Hall. In response to the fact that the start date of renovations is not known at this time, both sides agreed that either party can terminate the agreement one year in advance of any planned relocation and that the Philharmonic will provide at least two years’ notice prior to the start of any renovation.

“While we feel that it is unlikely the renovation will move ahead during this contract, this provision gives both sides more flexibility in the event the project proceeds more quickly than anticipated” said Ken Mirkin.


New rates for wages and health for substitute musicians were also negotiated by the union as part of these negotiations. In this there was a dual challenge.

The management proposed freezing salaries for substitute musicians until they fall to 80 percent of the scale for regular players. This would have meant no raise for substitutes for the entire term of the agreement.

At the same time, the union had received complaints that the health benefit contribution was much too low for the substitutes, forcing some musicians to turn down lucrative work at the Philharmonic in order to earn higher health benefit credits on other jobs.

The final compromise drastically increased the health benefit contribution immediately to $40 per concert with a cap of $120 per week – doubling the rate in effect a year ago – and stepping up by $3.33 per concert and ten dollars per week each year of the agreement.

In return the union agreed to allow wage raises to substitutes to be staggered, falling behind at the beginning of the contract, but reaching parity again with the regular musicians of the orchestra before the expiration of the agreement.


The contract was negotiated by Philharmonic members Fiona Simon (chair), James Markey, Ken Mirkin, Eric Ralske and R. Allen Spanjer. They were assisted by Bruce Simon, Esq. and 802 President Mary Landolfi.