Pacific Symphony players get no raises now, 5% in coming 2 years

Pacific Symphony players get no raises now, 5% in coming 2 years
The Pacific Symphony performs in Segerstrom Concert Hall in 2012. (Pacific Symphony)

The Pacific Symphony's musicians have agreed to do without a raise for a second straight season, but a new contract announced Thursday calls for their pay to rise a combined 5% during the two years after the current season.

Negotiations had gone on for more than a year before the agreement was reached. The musicians had worked without a contract during the 2012-13 season that ended Aug. 31, and for the first concert of the 2013-14 season, agreeing to be paid under the old terms while continuing to perform.


As with the recent Los Angeles Philharmonic contract agreement, this was a positive outcome compared with similar labor negotiations in other U.S. cities.

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After going without increases this season and for the previous one, which is retroactively included in the four-year deal, Pacific Symphony musicians will get a 2% bump for the 2014-15 season that begins next September, and two 1.5% increases during the 2015-16 season.

Unlike the L.A. Phil players, Pacific Symphony members are not on salary, but are paid on a "per service" basis. The current rate for a rank-and-file Pacific Symphony member is $249.26 for a concert and $183.67 for a rehearsal, said Robert Sanders, a veteran bass trombonist for the orchestra who's also president of American Federation of Musicians Local 7 in Orange County.

Principal players in each orchestral section get 50% above the base rate. The new deal calls for additional rehearsals for classical concerts and for increased orchestra sizes for a family concert series.

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Sanders said each season brings a combined total of nearly 200 concerts plus rehearsals, although many members won't get that many opportunities because the number of musicians needed changes depending on the repertoire to be played. He said virtually all the musicians do outside work.

"While the talks were, at times, very challenging, I appreciated the collegial tone with which the negotiations were undertaken," Pacific Symphony President John Forstye said in a written announcement of the contract deal.

It's the first post-recession contract for the orchestra. The previous agreement had been reached in 2007, boosting compensation 41.5% over five years.

The musicians had threatened to strike before reaching that agreement.

This time, Sanders said, "we were not at the point of striking at any time" during the long negotiations, because "we thought we would achieve an agreement. This was not an easy negotiation, but when one looks around the country these days, things could have been much more difficult." He declined to specify what the vote was among the musicians, but said the new contract "was solidly approved."

A labor dispute has idled the Minnesota Orchestra for more than a year, and strikes hit the Chicago Symphony in 2012 and the San Francisco Symphony earlier this year before their most recent deals were struck.

The L.A. Phil's musicians recently agreed to a four-year contract that increases base wages by just 3.8% over that period, but also includes a housing allowance and pension improvements. The Phil's minimum base salary will reach $154,336 in the contract's last year.

The Pacific Symphony's financial statements show that, unlike the L.A. Phil, which had only one deficit year during the recession, it was buffeted for three consecutive years, with deficits totaling $4.84 million for the period from September 2007 (shortly before the recession hit in late 2007) to September 2010.

Substantially improved fundraising led to a $3.58-million surplus for the Pacific Symphony in 2010-11, the most recent public statement immediately available. Revenues rose 34% to $20.2 million while spending rose just 1.1% to $16.6 million.