Local 802 and management of the Brooklyn Philharmonic had reached tentative agreement on a new contract as this issue went to press, after the most difficult and contentious negotiation of the current bargaining cycle. The agreement includes the basic economic elements of the New York Pops agreement, while retaining longstanding provisions on work guarantees and hospitalization coverage.
802 had allowed the orchestra’s March 15-16 concerts to go forward, based on a tentative verbal agreement between President Bill Moriarity and Brooklyn Philharmonic Executive Director Catherine Cahill. The parties were to meet on March 22 to finalize the details of the memorandum of understanding.
The orchestra was expected to hold a ratification vote during the following week. More details on the agreement, and the outcome of the vote, will appear in next month’s Allegro.
“We think it’s a fair settlement for all parties,” said 802 President Bill Moriarity. “Certainly our members, who have seen work decline since Sept. 11, need the benefits and employment opportunities offered by this new agreement. We also understand the problems facing cultural institutions of this kind and have tried to accommodate that concern as best we could, for the Brooklyn Philharmonic as well as other local orchestras with whom we have been negotiating.”
Orchestra members had taken their battle for a new contract to the public in February. With the support of players in the other freelance orchestras, their bargaining team and 802 staff, they leafleted outside a Feb. 15-16 concert that had been planned as a full orchestra performance, but was replaced by a solo piano recital. On both nights, groups of 30 to 35 people leafleted members of the audience, who were overwhelmingly sympathetic.
The union’s goal in this negotiation was to win the basic economic package established when the New York Pops reached agreement with Local 802 in early December, in order to maintain the level playing field that has prevailed over many years in this industry. While there are many variations among the contracts, certain basic economic elements are crucial and have been incorporated in every agreement reached to date: with the Little Orchestra Society, American Composers Orchestra, Opera Orchestra of New York and the Queens Symphony. The American Symphony Orchestra and New York Chamber Symphony have also agreed to those basic economic terms, although negotiations continue on other issues. The economic package is also incorporated in an agreement with Riverside Symphony that is yet to be signed.
Management of the Brooklyn Philharmonic initially refused to accept those terms unless it was permitted to take back two longstanding elements of their agreement – work guarantees and hospitalization – on the grounds that other orchestras did not have these provisions. The union’s position was that other orchestras’ agreements contain many provisions that the Brooklyn Philharmonic has never adopted, and that by accepting a complete wage and benefit freeze in the first year of the freelance contracts, 802 members had already made substantial sacrifices to keep New York’s cultural institutions afloat in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Assistant Director David Lennon told Allegro,”It has never been the union’s position that these contracts must be totally identical.” He noted that the work guarantee was particularly important, given that the orchestra has a history of canceling concerts.
Over the years, Local 802 has helped to open up doors for the Brooklyn Philharmonic politically, and has helped them obtain city funding whenever possible. Lennon pointed out that last year, at 802’s request, former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone helped to facilitate city funding that virtually saved the balance of the season. “The orchestra was very close to going under last year, and that money would never have come to them without 802’s efforts,” he said.
The negotiating committee, which had the strong support of orchestra members, was made up of Lou Bruno (chair), Kathy Fink, Steve Hartman, Jules Hirsh and Andy Seligson. They were assisted by 802 counsel Lenny Leibowitz, Financial Vice-President Tina Hafemeister, Assistant Director David Lennon and Concert Rep Joe Delia. An important part in reaching agreement was played by President Moriarity, who had stepped in to help move the stalled negotiations forward.