New York City Ballet Orchestra Ratifies Contract

Attendance Requirements Sparked Two-Week Lockout

Volume C, No. 1January, 2000

Bill Dennison

Members of the New York City Ballet Orchestra voted 43 to 19 on Dec. 7 to ratify a new contract, ending a two-week lockout by Ballet management. While the settlement put the orchestra back in the pit, the lockout has left in its wake an angry orchestra and thousands of equally angry and bitter New York musicians and audience members, upset over the use of tapes by this prestigious ballet company.

The primary issue that led to a one-day strike by the orchestra, and then to the lockout, was management’s insistent demand for attendance requirements. While the agreement that was finally accepted contains such requirements, they are far less stringent than those management had initially demanded. Their initial demands would have required eight services per week, virtually prohibiting any substitution.

On Dec. 6 the orchestra committee, along with Local 802 President Bill Moriarity, Vice-President Mary Landolfi and Local 802 attorney Lenny Leibowitz, presented to the orchestra a tentative agreement that had been hammered out over weeks of talks and then several days of intense negotiations.

The committee informed the orchestra that, by a four-to-one vote, they were recommending that the contract be approved. In the words of one committee member, “While we certainly do not like parts of this agreement, I can honestly tell you that I believe this is the best we’re going to get at this time.”

Moriarity told the orchestra, “Those of us who went through these negotiations became convinced that management was determined to gain these changes in attendance requirements and were willing to keep this orchestra locked out for as long as it took.”

The four hours of vigorous discussion that followed debated both the attendance issue and the wisdom of allowing the lockout to continue while the ballet performed to taped music. An orchestra vote followed and balloting continued until the next afternoon. When the votes were tallied orchestra members had approved the new agreement by a more than two-to-one margin.

“While this was a difficult vote, I think orchestra members made the right decision,” Vice-President Landolfi told Allegro. “I would hope that in the coming weeks we have a chance to discuss the lessons we can all draw from this difficult negotiation more broadly in the union.”


Besides the attendance requirements, the three-year agreement with the New York City Ballet provides for wage increases of 3.7 percent, 3.6 percent and 3.4 percent that will bring the weekly base wage to $1,500 for a six-performance week. Rehearsal wages will rise by over 19 percent in the first year and by nearly 24 percent over the full contract period. The pension contributions will increase from 12.5 percent to 13.5 percent. These improvements make this one of the best-paying musician’s jobs in the city, and one with a pension contribution that is only exceeded by Broadway.

The final language on attendance has three components:

  • The first is a requirement that musicians be present for 70 percent of performances and 75 percent of rehearsals. Initially these percentages will be averaged over a two-year period, and thereafter on a yearly basis. Also during the first year, if orchestra members have previous commitments that cannot be canceled without “undue burden on the musicians,” these absences will be excluded from the attendance calculations.
  • Secondly, each orchestra section has section minimums, requiring a certain number of regular or rotation players in that section to be present for each performance.
  • Lastly, there are requirements that, for new ballets, the musicians who attend dress rehearsals must also attend the first four performances of the ballet during its first season.


Throughout the brief strike and then the lockout, the New York media refused to present the musicians’ side of this struggle. Stories consistently hammered the orchestra over the attendance issue and criticized the union for not acceding to management’s demands. Except in a half-page ad Local 802 purchased in the New York Times, the musicians’ side of the issues was not presented.

Despite this bias – or perhaps because it was so evident – the orchestra was greeted with a standing ovation after their first post-lockout performance. The New York Times reviewer wrote, “Throughout the evening it was fascinating to hear how the musicians, with Guillermo Figueroa, as violin soloist, filled the theater with a sonic vibrancy that tape recordings could not equal.” He reported that, “as Hugo Fiorato, the evening’s conductor, entered the pit, many members of the audience burst into cheers. They did so again during the final curtain calls when, after taking a bow on stage, Mr. Fiorato gestured for the musicians to rise.”

The NYCBO committee consisted of Jay Blumenthal, Jane Cochran, Larry Fader (chair), Joyce Flissler and Gary Koch. They were assisted by Local 802 legal counsel Leonard Leibowitz, President Bill Moriarity and orchestra legal counsel Sheldon Engelhard.