Sweet Sound of Victory

After a tough 10-month struggle, Stamford musicians win contract

Volume 111, No. 7/8July, 2011

Harvey Mars, Esq.

Local 802 attorney Harvey Mars (right) and Stamford Symphony committee member Peter Weitzner (left) speak with an audience member prior to a leafleting action.

From left, concert rep Karen Fisher and most of the Stamford Symphony orchestra committee: Peter Weitzner, Laura Bald, Don Batchelder, Susan Lorentsen, and Lisa Tipton. Lois Martin also serves on the committee but was not pictured.

Fro left, Stamford Symphony librarian David Carp, orchestra committee member Peter Wetzner, substitute musician Jessica Troy and Financial Vice President Jay Blumenthal.

Victory is such a sweet sound. Six months to the day after an article in the New York Times proclaimed that most New York freelance musicians faced the likelihood of pay cuts and inevitable concessions, the Stamford Symphony Orchestra ratified a collective bargaining agreement that contains clear gains rather than concessions.

The results of Local 802’s negotiations with the Stamford Symphony should shine like a beacon of hope within New York’s ailing freelance industry.

This hard-won contract came after many hours of negotiations and committee deliberations.

It took nearly a year of negotiations, a letter writing campaign to the Stamford Symphony’s board of directors, informational picketing at the Palace Theater in Stamford and a bona fide strike threat that was averted only hours prior to the final concert of the season.

In the wake of this Herculean effort, the Stamford Symphony Orchestra has ratified a four-year contract.

In the beginning, we faced untenable proposals from management, including:

  • A four-year wage cut
  • A three-tier pay system in which substitute musicians would be making less money than tenured musicians for the same work
  • Additional concerts in Connecticut paid at 38 percent of current wages
  • Performances at New York major venues paid at 75 percent of scale
  • Wage cuts if any pension or health benefit contribution increases were required.

Particularly odious was management’s demand for a tiered pay structure, which would have had a devastating impact upon the entire freelance community.

These and other draconian contractual proposals were averted as a result of the steadfast solidarity of both the committee and the orchestra.

In addition to staving off concessionary proposals, the agreement contains significant gains.

The new agreement, which expires Sept. 1, 2014, includes a wage freeze for the orchestra’s 2010-2011 season, but contains increases of more than 5 percent over the remaining three years of the contract.

The contract also makes it harder to dismiss musicians for artistic reasons. This became a significant issue with the orchestra following the firing of two longstanding tenured members of the orchestra last year, despite the Peer Review Committee’s vote to oppose the music director’s decision. The new language puts a greater burden on the music director to make his or her case for dismissals and requires that the Peer Review Committee meet twice (instead of just once) before a final decision is rendered.

It is clear that without the resolve of the committee and the orchestra, these enhancements would not have been achieved.

“The best part of this negotiation was working with a wonderful committee,” said committee member Susan Lorensten. “My colleagues are smart and deeply care about protecting our ability to do what we love to make a living. Our committee had no chairperson and we worked together editing and throwing around ideas. We seemed to find it easy to entertain everyone’s ideas and we became very adept at editing each other’s writing without taking offense – and we have some harsh editors!”

“The long, protracted negotiation of the contract was often a daunting process that is only vindicated by the positive results of the final agreement,” said committee member Peter Weitzner. “The committee’s resolve to hold the fort in this difficult economic environment had the complete support of our union and all the resources it could bring to bear. We are grateful for all of their expertise and assistance in bringing this negotiation to a close.”

The musicians on the Stamford Symphony Orchestra Committee are Peter Weitzner, Susan Lorentsen, Don Batchelder, Laura Bald, Lisa Tipton, and Lois Martin. Local 802 Financial Vice President Jay Blumenthal, myself and Senior Concert Rep Karen Fisher represented the union in these negotiations. Lastly, special thanks to Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi whose invaluable assistance helped close the deal.

Local 802 Senior Concert Rep Karen Fisher contributed to this article.


“After 10 difficult months of negotiations, it is rewarding to have reached such a favorable conclusion. The committee, the orchestra and the union should be commended for their perseverance, resulting in a contract that reflects the needs of the players. Serving on a committee during contract negotiations was an eye-opening experience and I encourage all musicians to take part in this experience at some point in their career.”

– Stamford orchestra committee member Lois Martin


“A number of us on this committee were ‘first-timers,’ but what we lacked in experience was made up by determination and a spirit of cooperation. Everyone’s point of view was heard and respected, and we all shared the responsibilities of attending meetings, writing letters and researching our position. One of my favorite moments was eating dinner with my colleagues before leafleting the audience between our dress rehearsal and concert. Because we had to leaflet during the time when we normally ate dinner, fellow committee member Don Batchelder prepared an amazing feast and literally fed the entire orchestra! I would encourage everyone to serve on an orchestra committee. At times it felt overwhelming, but working as a team, we were able to achieve a very positive result, even during difficult economic times. I am grateful to all of the committee members, and they have become my close friends.”

– Stamford orchestra committee member Laura Bald