Hartford Orchestra Musicians Reject Latest Contract, But Will Continue Negotiating

Jan 8, 2016

In a preliminary vote Thursday night, musicians of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra rejected — by secret ballot — a labor offer and wage cuts proposed by HSO management.  

Negotiations between management and the musicians, however, are expected to continue. The labor dispute has been ongoing for the past year. 

The American Federation of Musicians Local 400, which represents the musicians, said in a press release that the proposal the musicians rejected asked for more concessions than the management's previous offer, which was rejected in September. 

"Now, in addition to asking the core musicians to take a 40 percent cut, management wants to cut income producing services and reduce work opportunities for all of the musicians," the release stated. 

The release also stated that HSO management proposed a "cancelation clause" that would allow management to cancel "all or part of a season if they believe there is a financial reason to do so." 

The union's latest proposal to management was $750,000 in wage cuts over four years. 

Initially last January, the musicians of the HSO were presented with a contract that cut some of the musician's pay by 40 percent. 

The orchestra’s management has threatened to close the symphony if an agreement is not reached by the end of January, citing a financial crisis that could leave them out of cash by this spring. 

Read the union's statement below. 

The Musicians of the Hartford Symphony voted unanimously, by secret ballot, to reject HSO management’s latest contract proposal. The proposal is highly regressive, asking for far more in concessions than management’s previously rejected offer of September 12, 2015.  Now, in addition to asking the core musicians to take a 40% cut, management wants to cut income producing services and reduce work opportunities for all of the musicians.

Additionally, HSO management has a newly proposed cancellation clause which would allow the HSO to cancel all or part of a season if they believe there is financial reason to do so. If exercised, this clause would deny musicians contracted employment and subscribers the concerts they value. Such a clause would remove all incentive for the HSO as an organization to fulfill fundraising goals and commitments. In essence, the contract would be a one sided affair binding the musicians but giving HSO management and Board the ability to walk away from their obligations.

On December 28, 2015, the musicians presented a revised proposal to HSO management offering deep, hard, and painful sacrifice affecting the lives and lifestyles of every member of the orchestra. These cuts would result in a four-year savings of $750,000 to the organization. Management’s counterproposal showed token movement and once again rejected the principle of shared sacrifice going forward.

It is said that certain donors are unwilling to continue to help unless a ‘structural deficit’ is fixed and the budget is balanced. Deficits do not result from the musicians’ contract. They are rooted in mismanagement and a Board that has never elevated its thinking beyond managing the crisis of the moment. The longstanding lack of an endowment campaign and the resultant financial deficit is the root cause of why the organization is where it is today. A significantly enhanced endowment would lead to a rejuvenated, forward thinking financial model and a thriving community asset of tomorrow.

An arts organization can’t cut its way to success. It needs to grow the product. It needs to market the product. Reducing the HSO’s visibility in the community is not an option.  It is management’s job to manage, not dismantle. It is the Board’s responsibility to raise the funds necessary for the HSO to fulfill its obligations and commitment to the community and thereby justify its reason for being granted non-profit status.

Going back to 2007, management asked to reopen the musicians’ contract on three separate occasions citing financial hardship. With each reopener the musicians accepted further cuts in salaries and personnel which allowed the organization to realize approximately $300,000 savings per year. In the nine years since the first reopener, the musicians’ sacrifice amounts to $2.7 million.

We, the Musicians of the HSO, have done and will continue to do our share but we cannot do it alone. Our proposal remains on the table but we need the Board to direct its management to embrace the substantial sacrifices made in our latest proposal and focus its energies on the all-important mission of launching an energized endowment campaign. Only then will Hartford, our community, be assured of keeping and sustaining the orchestra that it expects and deserves.

Ray Hardman contributed to this report.