At the 11th Hour, New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players Reach an Agreement

Volume CVI, No. 1January, 2006

Jacob Heyman-Kantor

See below article for chart of contract details.

Pending ratification by the orchestra members, a tentative agreement has been reached with the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players (NYGASP). The group began negotiating at the beginning of August and reached a tentative agreement in December.


The negotiations were contentious from the start, as NYGASP management refused to pay Single Engagement Classical Ballet Scale at major New York City performance venues. In late September, they refused to even meet with the union until we agreed to below-scale rates. After the orchestra voted to give the negotiating committee strike authorization, management finally agreed to meet, but only on the condition that the union promise not to strike the upcoming October run-out. Management did not promise to offer anything at this negotiation session, however. In essence, they were asking the committee to give up all of their leverage and get nothing in return. The committee was left with no choice – they set a strike deadline for the day before the run-out was to begin.

Most of NYGASP’s work is through run-outs that pay well below scale and a two-week performance series at City Center that pays scale. Not all of the musicians hired for the run-out would be playing at the City Center series, but they recognized that maintaining scale at major venues is more important than just another pay raise. It’s about maintaining area standards, a standard that musicians have fought to uphold for decades. Subs hired for the run-out knew that once the major venue issue was resolved, the committee would fight tooth and nail to improve run-out working conditions and pay. Not only did subs hired for the run-out agree with the strike authorization, many of them offered to join a picket line.

In the meantime, 802 staff were reaching out to locals around the country, ensuring that NYGASP would be unable to hire a scab orchestra. NYGASP was faced with solidarity among musicians, not just in New York City but also in upstate New York and Columbus, Ohio. Less than 24 hours before the tour bus was scheduled to depart, management agreed to pay 802 scale at major venues.


With the major venue issue settled, overnight and run-out pay were the most contentious wage issues remaining, since NYGASP rarely performs in smaller New York City venues, rarely has regular rehearsals, and rarely tours with the regular NYGASP orchestra (trips of fewer than five days are considered run-outs in the NYGASP contract). The musicians also wanted a higher rate for performances at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). In the old contract, NJPAC performances were paid at the usual run-out rate, despite the fact that NJPAC has nearly 3,000 seats. As Steve Shulman, chair of the orchestra committee, pointed out, “It’s obvious at first sight that NJPAC is a major venue. It’s right in our backyard and generates high ticket sales. The orchestra’s pay scale should reflect that.”

Another important issue was health contributions for sound checks at minor venues. NYGASP often holds sound checks instead of regular rehearsals, so health benefits on these services can add up. Within the last year the union won a long, costly arbitration over sound check health benefits, and management proposed to take this benefit away. Talks nearly broke down over this at the last minute of the final negotiation session. In the end, however, both sides agreed to terms for continuing these health contributions. This provision ensures that musicians receive health contributions every time they play, an important standard to maintain in the concert field.

The condition of the buses used for run-outs was the most important non-economic issue for the musicians. The NYGASP contract requires new buses with air-conditioning, clean toilets, and all the other amenities of a first class bus. Despite this language, NYGASP’s buses have been repeatedly substandard. Over the past several years, musicians have called the union with some outrageous reports: sweltering inside an 80-degree bus for four hours, a sleep-deprived bus operator barely able to drive, and a bus that caught on fire with musicians inside.

Committee member Deb Spohnheimer had the bus trips in mind when she was at the negotiation table. As she recalled, “I went on a NYGASP bus trip this past June that was awful – an old water-stained bus with dirty seats, no A/C and no bathroom. Both roof hatches on the bus were stuck open, and when the rain started coming in, you just had to laugh. You can’t expect to ride on a bus like that for half a day and then walk on stage and perform at your best.” Since most of NYGASP’s engagements are run-outs and overnights, this was no small issue for the musicians. NYGASP negotiators gave the musicians their sympathies, but argued that management could not be held responsible for the failures of bus companies. During the negotiations, musicians went on a run-out with a bus that ran perfectly, so as a compromise, the two sides agreed to continue using that bus company.

“It’s a fair contract,” said Robert Lawrence, concertmaster of the NYGASP orchestra. “We were able to win it because the regular players, the subs, and even musicians from other locals scheduled in the NYGASP run-out recognized our common interest in maintaining standards.” The new contract also includes a ban on the virtual orchestra machine.

The NYGASP negotiating committee was made up of Danielle Doctorow, Robert Lawrence, Ellie Schiller, Steve Shulman, and Deborah Spohnheimer. Concert Representative Jacob Heyman-Kantor and legal counsel Lenny Leibowitz also participated in negotiations.


New York Minor Venues




Rehearsals (per hour)
Sound checks (per half-hour)
Single Engagement
Children’s Performance




Out of Town






Health Contributions


Sound checks 30- minutes
Sound checks 30-60 minutes
Other services