Westchester Philharmonic Wins First Union Contract

New agreement mirrors union’s freelance scale

Volume CIX, No. 2February, 2009

Jay Blumenthal
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The musicians of the Westchester Philharmonic recently ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with Local 802. 

The new two-year contract, which runs through June 30, 2010, came about as a result of changes taking place at the artistic level of the Westchester Philharmonic.

During the long tenure of Music Director Paul Dunkel, each individual concert was filed as a union agreement using Local 802’s single engagement contract form.

But last May, Maestro Dunkel conducted his last concert with the Philharmonic. (Dunkel wrote a “farewell and goodbye” as a letter to the editor in the July/August 2008 issue of Allegro.)

As Dunkel was leaving, it was not yet determined who the orchestra’s new music director would be. Therefore, the musicians thought it would be prudent to have a more permanent collective bargaining agreement in place that would contain job security for primary hiring list musicians along with other important provisions.

The negotiations began. At first, management suggested wages that were below the union’s classical scale. This was totally rejected by the orchestra committee, who were committed to full scale. The committee was very aware that any scale reduction would erode the concept of the level playing field, which says that all top-tier orchestras and venues in New York City should pay full scale. This prevents undercutting and a race to the bottom.

In the end, the musicians won their goal of full scale. Besides wages, the other contract provisions also parallel the other major freelance orchestras.

French hornist Peter Reit, who is an orchestra committee member, told Allegro, “We have a contract, and it’s about time. Now we can get down to what we’re best at: making great music! Exciting times are ahead of us here in Westchester.” 

The contract establishes a Philharmonic health benefits shortfall fund ($500 in the first year and $2,000 in the second year), enabling musicians who fall short of Plan A or Plan B by $500 or less to apply for a contribution from the fund in order to get onto a health plan. (This fund is administered each season on a first come, first served basis until the fund has been depleted.)

In addition to achieving job security for those on the primary hiring list, the contract also contains a “maintenance of benefits” clause, ensuring that musicians can’t lose any benefits as a result of the new union contract.

The contract also provides procedures when musicians are not re-engaged — both for artistic and non-artistic reasons — as well as grievance and arbitration and recording language.

John Moses, clarinetist with the orchestra, told Allegro, “We now have a formal union contract that looks very good, a strong management that is remaining cooperative, and an orchestra committee that has gone far and above their call to duty.”

Members of the orchestra committee are Lowell Hershey, Eugene Moye, Peter Reit, Sandra Robbins and Sander Strenger. Concert rep Karen Fisher, union counsel Harvey Mars and I also participated in the negotiations.

Local 802 welcomes the Westchester Philharmonic and its new artistic director, Itzhak Perlman, into the New York family of major freelance orchestras.