Radio City Music Hall Contract Preserves Full 35-Member Orchestra

Musicians Ratify New Five-Year Agreement

Volume C, No. 9September, 2000

After narrowly averting a strike during last season’s Christmas Spectacular, and following several months of difficult negotiations this year, Local 802 has reached agreement on a new contract with Radio City Productions. RCP is owned by Cablevision, which also owns Madison Square Garden.

The new agreement preserves the full 35-member orchestra that performs in Radio City Music Hall’s annual Christmas show for its full five-year term. It also raises weekly wages 3.5 percent per year – from the current level of $1,350 to $1,603 in the contract’s final year – and raises the pension contribution from 10 to 11 percent in the third year.

The five-member orchestra committee unanimously recommended the agreement and, in voting on Aug. 9-10, orchestra members ratified it 20 to 1.


In addition to locking in the 35-member orchestra for the term of the agreement, RCP will also guarantee that pool orchestra members are offered no less than 195 shows in each of the next five years. For the first time, the agreement provides job security for the two organists engaged for the Christmas Spectacular. They will also receive a 25 percent premium and two weeks salary for the music preparation work they do each year.

However, the agreement allows RCP the right to develop new Music Hall shows with the number of musicians and the orchestration solely at their discretion. This “creative freedom,” as they term it, had been Cablevision’s central demand throughout the negotiations, along with a host of other giveback demands. These included a wage freeze, a decrease in the size of the RCMH pool orchestra from 35 to 30, and an end to any commitment to this orchestra for any other work in the Music Hall.

In making these demands, particularly their demand for “creative control,” Cablevision threatened to move ahead with plans to tape the music of the Christmas Spectacular and put the show on without the orchestra. At one point they presented the union and orchestra committee with a July 1 deadline for an agreement, and said that taping would proceed if it was not met.

Although that deadline came and went, Cablevision had indeed covertly taped the Christmas show during a performance last November. Management was apparently ready to use a tape at that time, had the orchestra struck. Instead, the musicians agreed to a one-year contract extension and a $50 per week wage increase.

In this year’s negotiations, Cablevision renewed their demands and their threats. Despite being faced with what they judged to be a real threat that management would use a tape, the orchestra committee and union resolved to continue to fight to protect the 35-member pool orchestra, gain job security for the show’s organists, maintain at least some access to other work in the Music Hall, and improve wages and pension.

In the end, all of these goals were achieved. What was lost was a commitment to use this orchestra for future revue shows, a commitment that had produced almost no work during the last several years. In addition, if there is a future show, wage rates will lag two years behind the Christmas show rates. Other than the annual Christmas Spectacular, the Music Hall has not had a successful revue or theatrical show in a decade or more. The last Easter Show was presented in 1997, and had only a week-and-one-half run.

The new contract does, however, offer some hope of other work to members of the RCMH orchestra if such work should materialize. For future revue-type shows, RCP is obligated to provide orchestra members an audition with the music director if their instrument is utilized in the new production.

And should RCP produce a show that has previously appeared on Broadway, orchestra members must be offered employment if their instrument is utilized, with the same two-rehearsal probationary period as on Broadway. In addition, a minimum complement of musicians must be hired for these Broadway shows equal to the lesser of 30 or the minimum used in the Broadway production.