The SFX Strike in South Florida

Volume CI, No. 2February, 2001

Len Leibowitz

The underlying causes of the current strike of Musicians’ Local 655 in South Florida against the theatrical producer SFX are very much the same as those that resulted in the recent strike of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra.

In the years preceding the Federation’s establishment of a trusteeship, the local had so neglected the members employed in both areas of work that wage scales, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment had deteriorated to a pitiful level. Despite the fact that the South Florida area is as large – and at least as wealthy – as other comparable cities, the salaries of musicians in the Philharmonic had been allowed to fall almost to the bottom of the ICSOM orchestras. The musicians, whose weekly wage was approximately $814 for an eight-service week, were seeking only the average ICSOM salary of $1,137.

Similarly, musicians employed in various South Florida theatres in which musicals are presented earn weekly wages of approximately $712 for eight shows per week, and $20 per hour for rehearsals. In the two most comparable cities, Atlanta and Dallas, the weekly wage exceeds $1,200 and rehearsals pay almost $40 per hour.

SFX is the major presenter of musicals in South Florida. Its offer of a four-year contract would not only fail to close the gap, it would leave local musicians even farther behind. And, of course, musicians traveling with the show under Pamphlet B are sitting alongside the local musicians in the pit and earning upwards of $1,400 per week in wages and per diem.

The failure of former administrations to represent musicians properly led to an arrogance of both employers that exacerbated the problem to the point that both strikes were virtually inevitable.

The conclusion of the FPO strike was painful. In a soon-to-be published description, the chair of the Orchestra Committee described the final meeting as follows:

This was the most solemn meeting imaginable. We were witnessing the robbery of major clauses in our contract. Not one item from our proposal was on the table, only concessions. The room was filled with tears, and anger at our management. We had been disrespected in the most horrible way imaginable. When it was over, the musicians accepted all the concessions and ratified the last and final offer. It was a very dark night for the FPO musicians but, in my view, it was even a darker night for the Governing Council and management. Rather than treating the musicians with a meaningful, respectful negotiation, they resorted to assaults on the musicians and the institution with no regard for the community. It was evident to many that the Governing Council wanted to close the orchestra and blame it on the musicians. You could see musicians taking the Philharmonic license plates off their cars and throwing them in the street. You could see musicians hugging each other in tears. There was no joy anywhere.

But despite this terrible loss, at least the musicians – led and supported by the new administration of the local – had stood up for themselves and their colleagues. Next time, they will be stronger and smarter.

So, too, the local theatre musicians are the Davids fighting the SFX Goliath. The traveling musicians have been very supportive. SFX is on the AFM Unfair List, and the travelers have respected the picket lines and refused to work. Fiddler on the Roof was played with two pianos. But Cinderella was played by scabs who have been offered $2,500 per week to do this dirty work.

The word is now spreading that SFX is on the AFM Unfair List and that all musicians, union or not, are urged not to take work away from their colleagues – next time it could be them. If you are called to work for SFX in South Florida, please notify Bill Moriarity or Len Leibowitz at Local 802.