WE HAVE A DEAL: New contract with New York Pops will set Local 802’s freelance concert rate for next five years

Financial Vice President's report

Volume 124, No. 4April, 2024

Karen Fisher

The New York Pops, as pictured on their website.

I’m very pleased to announce that Local 802 and the New York Pops have reached an agreement. After nearly a year of negotiations, we have achieved a progressive five-year contract that will also set the rates for the Local 802 single engagement concert scales.

I’ll discuss the highlights below, but first a little background. For many years, there were 10 major freelance orchestras that negotiated with Local 802 as a consortium known as Orchestra Managers of New York (or “OMNY”). My predecessor Tom Olcott wrote a history of the OMNY system — and its eventual breakup — that we published in the May 2012 issue of Allegro.

Once we found ourselves negotiating separately with each orchestra, we had to determine what scale to use to promulgate the single engagement rates for the freelance concert field. Because the Pops has historically been the most financially successful of the OMNY orchestras, we’ve used the outcome of those negotiations on which to base the rates. This serves the purpose of leveling the playing field so that no orchestra can undercut another orchestra in bidding for work. It also allows musicians to make decisions on what work to accept based on artistic rather than financial criteria.

Because all the orchestra contracts are now on different expiration schedules, there is a time lag between the expiration of the single engagement rates and the promulgation of the new rates. This leaves the Concert Department fielding dozens of questions from contractors, orchestra managers and members about what rates to use in the interim. To solve this problem, we ask management to either agree to pay retroactively once the rates are promulgated — or add 4 percent to the existing rates and avoid having to file a second contract with retroactivity. We did that for a few months. However, when it became clear that the Pops was not going to settle until after January 1, 2024, we decided to promulgate a rate for one year. This worked well. Now that we have an agreement, we will be able to promulgate rates for the next five years, eliminating the need for the extra paperwork until 2028. Other than unforeseen circumstances (such as mandated increases by the benefit funds), knowing the numbers in advance provides management a basis on which to calculate budgets through the expiration of the contract.

The new Pops agreement features performance and rehearsal increases of 3.25 percent in each of the first three years of the contract and increases of 4 percent in years four and five. By the end of the contract in September 2028, musicians will earn $385.06 for base concert wages and rehearsals will pay $77.29 per hour. Cartage will increase substantially in an effort to help offset the upcoming congestion pricing mandate. Health benefits have increased 50 percent since the last contract and will increase a few dollars over the course of the five years. We also obtained increases in travel time pay and cleaned up some outdated recording language.

Not everything is about money, though. We were able to secure an important commitment to offer work to the full string complement for each service set, and we won language that promises management will make a “good faith effort and consideration” to prioritize seniority seating in the violin section.

When we surveyed the orchestra, we found that establishing musician representation on the Pops executive board was a high priority for the musicians. We were able to agree to the formation of a collaborative group consisting of Pops board representatives and two to three elected musician representatives, with a mandate to meet three times per season. We hope that this will be a good first step towards better communication between management and the musicians of the orchestra.

Congratulations to the New York Pops Orchestra Committee — Daryl Goldberg, Anthony Kadleck, Mark Patterson and Lou Bruno — who each brought their own unique perspectives to the discussion. Some of them shared their thoughts with me on the new contract.

“The only way to reach our goals in the collective bargaining process is through strong union leadership and a strong committee. This is only possible with the support of our rank-and-file members,” longstanding committee member Lou Bruno told me.

Mark Patterson, the newest member of the committee, approached the negotiation with a sharp focus on economics. “This was a tricky and lengthy negotiation, coming out of Covid times and previous high inflation,” he said. “But we were able to gain a little future ground back on inflation, and also remove from the discussion some concessions the management had asked for but which we felt were not reasonable.”

Committee Chair Daryl Goldberg (and a committee member since the beginning of the Pops in 1983) told me, “We are pleased with the year-over-year increases we were able to achieve this time around. There are a lot of good things in this contract, including the fact that the musicians will have more of a voice in the promotion and wellbeing of the orchestra.”

One final note for all of us regarding future negotiations. The entire Pops negotiation was conducted over Zoom, which is not an ideal way to conduct business. While remote meetings have the obvious advantage of convenience, we ran into some serious communication problems that never happened when our meetings were in person. On a screen, it’s nearly impossible to get the same read of the room, your opponent, your team, and how your message is being received. Had we met in person and exchanged documents in real time, some of the inevitable conflict might have been avoided. Now that normal life has mostly returned, in-person meetings need to return as well.

The new promulgated rates will take effect September 11, 2024 and will eventually be posted at


While it is great to have the Pops negotiation concluded, there’s no time to rest. Our next “flagship” contract negotiation is for the ABT orchestra, which sets the rates for the single engagement ballet and opera wage scales and conditions. We are already preparing for that negotiation, as well as continuing our work in other areas and with other contracts. As always, I will continue to update you with news of interest and as we reach agreement with our constituencies.

For any questions related to the Concert Department, contact Local 802 Financial Vice President Karen Fisher at or (212) 245-4802, ext.105.To report a nonunion gig confidentially, you can also use the Local 802 hotline at