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Discord Grows Between Fort Worth Symphony Management And Musicians

Tensions over the contract between the Fort Worth Symphony and its musicians continue. The symphony says it has issued its final offer and musicians will vote on it Friday, but it’s not clear if they’ll accept it.  

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, musicians voted to authorize a strike. The musicians say they can go on strike at any time, but are not obligated to do so.

The symphony's plan cuts musician pay by 8.4 percent and trims vacation and weeks of work, but won’t reduce the number of concerts in a season. 

Members say they took 13.5 percent cuts five years ago and shouldn’t face more because the city and economy are growing again.

Union President Ken Krause says symphony management isn't doing enough. 

“They’re just not raising the money,” he says. “I mean that’s their job. That’s not happening. So what they’re trying to do is balance the budget on the backs of the musicians.”

In a statement, 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 $12 million budget – 46 percent -- to musician salaries compared to the country’s top 50 orchestras, which assign an average of 33.5 percent. 

Fort Worth’s 67 symphony members will vote on the contract this week, Krause says.

“Well we can accept it and work under it, but I don’t think the musicians are going to be willing to do that. We have to have something better,” Krause says.

Regardless of the vote, the symphony says it will implement the contract Monday. The musicians will then have to decide what’s next. Options include trying to gain public support for their side through a variety of public events or protests to voting to strike. 


Musicians will vote on Friday whether to accept the symphony’s final contract offer – which cuts their pay by 8.4%  Musicians have already voted to authorize a strike. So if they reject the package, they could walk out at any time. 

That means they could be on strike during the symphony’s big fundraising Gala on February 6, featuring violin virtuoso Joshua Bell. Scott Jessup is a symphony violist and contract negotiator.

“All dates on the calendar are potential dates of leverage for us,” Jessup says. “It might be the gala, it might be something after the gala, it might be before the gala. Obviously if they’re moving back to the table and beginning to bargain again, things change, you know? 

Hear Scott Jessup

Things seem unlikely to change. That’s because symphony management says the musicians’ pay requests are unreasonable. Players want some previous pay cuts restored. Management says that would eventually force the symphony out of business.

The gala is the symphony’s most important fundraiser – it brings in more than $800,000 -  and half of the funds raised go to support musician salaries.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.