Mostly Mozart Strike Is Settled

Orchestra Makes Gains in Wages, Pension and Job Security

Volume CII, No. 9September, 2002

On Aug. 2, after a four-day strike by Local 802 musicians, the union and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts/Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra reached accord on a four-year successor agreement. Orchestra members ratified the agreement by a 30-2 vote on Aug. 5.

Lincoln Center, which had abruptly cancelled the four weeks of Mostly Mozart Orchestra performances within minutes of an unfruitful negotiating session on July 29, announced that the performances could not be rescheduled. However, two free concerts will take place at Avery Fisher Hall in mid-August, for which the orchestra will receive one week’s pay.

Wages under the new agreement will increase from the current $1,650 per week to $1,725 in the first year and $1,800, $1,870 and $1,950 in successive years. The pension contribution increases, effective with the 2004 season, from 13 percent to 14 percent. In 2003, the second year of the agreement, the annual employment guarantee will increase from four weeks to five weeks. Longevity pay goes to $5 per week – from the current $4 – beginning with the new contract. The parties had agreed to all of these items prior to the strike.

The disagreement arose over the issue of the non-renewal of tenured musicians for artistic reasons. The orchestra has been without a music director since the end of the last season, and management is expected to name someone to the position shortly. In anticipation of this they had proposed fundamental changes in the contract provision addressing non-renewal of tenured musicians. Their proposal would have given the music director final and binding say in any decision, thereby eliminating any arbitration appeal.

Local 802, concerned that the new director would attempt wholesale changes in the orchestra, countered with a proposal to place the final decision in the hands of a peer review committee elected from within the orchestra, a process contained in many orchestra contracts. And the lines were drawn.

Brief informal discussions took place between the parties’ legal counsel on Tuesday and Wednesday, following the calling of the strike action, and a productive meeting between the union and management took place on Wednesday. Representing the musicians were Negotiating Committee Chair Lee Soper and committee member Martin Agee. They met with Bruce Crawford, chair of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and its president, Reynold Levy.

Ultimately, at the final meeting on Aug. 2, neither the union’s nor the employer’s proposal was agreed to. Instead an entirely different procedure, modeled on the Metropolitan Opera agreement, was put in place. Under this provision, the final decision rests with a three-member arbitration panel made up of one person selected by the orchestra, one selected by the employer, and a third provided by the American Arbitration Association.

While the discussions were taking place regarding non-renewal, it was decided to also change procedures for entry into the orchestra. It was agreed that the audition committee, made up of orchestra members, will conduct the initial auditions, from which the committee will make recommendations to the music director, who will make the final selection. Should the director not select any of the musicians recommended, the audition process would be repeated.

“The solution to these two problems represents an all too rare phenomenon,” said President Moriarity. “Both parties feel that they have gained by the changes – and they’re both probably right.”

Concert Supervisor David Lennon said, “The hard fought gains won for long-term job security are testimony to the solidarity of an orchestra that stood together in the face of substantial short-term loss.”

Soper said, “I am proud of what the Mostly Mozart Orchestra achieved, both financially and in terms of job security. Yes, our committee negotiated a good financial package with an extra week added to the season, but we would not be earning anything in the future if we lost our jobs due to a weak non-renewal procedure.

“We were able to take the ability to initiate non-renewal procedures away from management and give it solely to the music director. We believe that the final agreement, which provides for a tripartite arbitration board, one of which will be a musician appointed by us, is a huge gain for our future job security.”

Soper pointed out that, “in this era of union busting, we reminded Lincoln Center that this is a strong and unified orchestra. The most important lesson for us is that we put our personal needs aside for the good of the whole.”

Soper noted that “the fact that Lincoln Center canceled the whole season within 15 minutes of refusing to negotiate and forcing us to strike is unconscionable. In light of 9/11, there are so many New Yorkers staying close to home, and the cancellation will have a negative impact on our audience and the city.”

The orchestra committee “would especially like to thank Len Liebowitz for his brilliance and expertise at the bargaining table,” Soper said. “David Lennon deserves much praise for coming through for us with support, organization and great ideas. As far as I am concerned, all the employees in the Organizing Department, under the leadership of Joe Eisman, are the unsung heroes of Local 802. Their help on the hot and humid picket lines was greatly appreciated.”

In addition to Soper and Agee, the negotiating committee included Stephanie Fricker-Baer, Mike Gillette and Kim Laskowski. They were assisted by Lennon and legal counsel Lenny Leibowitz, who acted as chief negotiator. Moriarity participated in the meeting on Aug. 2.