On Nov. 19, barely hours before a threatened strike by the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, Local 802 and Radio City Productions reached agreement on a contract extension that includes a $50 wage increase. The weekly salary for the 35-member RCMH orchestra will rise to $1,350 for a 12-show week. Other provisions of the contract that has been in place for the last three years will be extended until May 16, 2000.
The settlement averted a potential shut down of the RCMH Christmas Spectacular. The show is an institution during New York’s holiday season, drawing an audience of over one million during its ten-week run.
Last year Radio City Productions was purchased by Cablevision, a $10 billion company that, in addition to its cable television operations, also owns Madison Square Garden, the Knicks and the Rangers. Cablevision’s entrance into the negotiations and the threat to run the show with tape, should the musicians strike, made bargaining especially difficult. Given these circumstances, the RCMH Orchestra Committee and the orchestra as a whole voted to accept the contract extension and to resume negotiations later this year.
The primary stumbling blocks in the negotiations were economic issues and a commitment to additional work for the orchestra. Despite Cablevision’s deep pockets, as evidenced by their $70 million renovation of the Music Hall, they refused to move from a wage offer that was less than the current inflation rate. And while continuing to offer a guarantee of work for the orchestra in any future “review type” shows and work with the Rockettes, there was no promise of any additional work in a hall that is constantly in use for concerts and other musical entertainment.
Local 802 and the orchestra committee were most disturbed by management’s seeming lack of commitment to anything beyond the physical space. Local 802 President Bill Moriarity told Allegro, “Despite the widely publicized and apparently fine renovation of the Music Hall, there doesn’t seem to be much of a commitment to music or to musicians. In fact, the one thing that wasn’t upgraded during the renovations was the Hall’s organ. The organ is one of this city’s real musical treasures, but it remains in disrepair. I hope that will change – and I hope that management will come to see the Music Hall as a center of live musical presentations in this city, as it should be.”
In addition to the RCMH contract, Local 802’s agreement with Madison Square Garden Productions for its shows in the Theatre at Madison Square Garden expires this year. Those negotiations will also involve Cablevision. The RCMH Orchestra Committee – made up of Bud Burridge, John Cipolla, Tom Olcott, Russ Rizner, Andy Rodgers (chair) and Jack Schnupp, aided by Lenny Leibowitz, Bill Moriarity and RCMH organist George Wesner – has already begun preparing for this year’s negotiations.