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Fort Worth Symphony Musicians Vote To Reject Management's Contract Offer

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra musicians
Musicians with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra marched through the streets of downtown earlier this month.

The musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony are working under a new contract. They voted to reject management’s final contract offer on Friday night.

Starting Monday, Fort Worth Symphony members are working under new terms. The contract that musicians turned down, and that management imposed anyway, cuts their wages by eight-and-a-half percent.

The vote came early Friday evening, but did not disrupt the performance that followed at Bass Performance Hall. After voting to reject the contract, symphony member William Clay said his fellow musicians want management to return to the bargaining table.

“Our research shows that thei​r finances are strong, there is no debt,” Clay said. “They have money to operate well into the future, and the big problem we have is there is no growth for the future. As we can see by the cuts we took in 2010, cutting musicians salaries does not result in viability or sustainability.”

Symphony managers did not comment after the vote. The two sides have been negotiating since June. Management has said the musicians’ requests for a raise are unreasonable – and they could eventually force the symphony out of business. Clay doesn't see it that way.

“We consider ourselves a world class orchestra, and that’s a term that’s been thrown around by our management,” Clay said. “That this is a world class institution. We’re very concerned with the direction they’re going threatens to turn it into a world class institution with no orchestra and musicians.”

Many of the symphony patrons heading into Friday night's show, had music on their minds, not a potential strike. Mike Lacki has had season tickets for a decade.

“We’d be disappointed that we’d miss any shows,” Lacki said. “I’m opposed to strikes in general, but I’m sympathetic with the orchestra and I would hope that the board would have enough common sense to deal fairly with the orchestra and give them what they deserve and what they earn.”

The musicians voted earlier last week to authorize a strike, but have not set a deadline or a strike date.

Our previous story: Musicians with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra voted Friday night to reject the symphony’s final contract offer, which cuts their pay by 8.5 percent.

Friday’s vote comes after months of talks between the musicians and symphony management.

Management says it will enforce the new contract starting Monday.

Players say they’ve already endured years of paycuts – they want some of those cuts restored. Management says the musicians’ requests are unreasonable – and they could eventually force the symphony out of business.

Musicians have already voted to authorize a strike. So they could walk out at any time. 

The Fort Worth musicians will keep playing – at least for now. After they announced they had rejected the contract, they performed a “Night at the Oscars” concert at Bass Performance Hall.

“In 2010, we accepted a 13.5% pay cut, saving the symphony over $2.3 million to date,” the musicians’ union says in a statement. “Where did that money go? In the meantime, Orchestra management has had five years to come up with a plan for growth, but they have not. Instead, they have been depleting the Symphony’s contingency funds. Now, once again, we are being told to pay for a pattern of shortsighted management, cutting our salaries down to 2003 levels. ...

"FWSO management’s lack of vision and stewardship is threatening the very institution they are claiming to protect," the statement says. "They are endangering the legacy of this symphony—unaccountable to the orchestra, our audience, and the community."

In a statement earlier this week, Symphony President Amy Adkins said the orchestra is always actively seeking new donors, and is raising money every day. But it’s also facing a financial crisis not of its own making. The current deficit is $650,000.

Adkins calls the musicians' requests extravagant and unreasonable. She said they balloon the deficit and jeopardize the symphony’s survival. She also says the symphony devotes a higher percentage of its budget to musician salaries compared to the country’s top 50 orchestras.