Oct 13, 2023 | News Story

Musicians of New York City Ballet Orchestra in Fight for Fair Contract

The musicians of the New York City Ballet Orchestra, represented by AFM Local 802, rallied this week outside Lincoln Center as the ballet celebrated its 75th anniversary. As the ballet served cake to audience members in a post-concert reception, the musicians had signs outside letting the public know that "it’s not a happy birthday because management refuses to pay fair wages to the orchestra."

Musicians are in a bitter fight for a fair contract with ballet management. The orchestra is currently working under an expired contract for 9 percent below their 2019 compensation. A major sticking point in the ongoing negotiations is management’s failure to agree to a fair wage adjustment that would compensate the musicians for going without pay for 15 months during the pandemic, then submitting to a harsh 15 percent pay cut – even though the ballet’s endowment was worth $263 million at the time. (The ballet also received more than $10 million in taxpayer-funded pandemic support.) Management also is insisting on significant healthcare concessions despite the fact that the ballet is experiencing record-breaking fundraising and ticket sales.

In response, musicians are engaging in massive public rallies, including one on Oct. 5 that coincided with the ballet’s annual fall fashion gala. The sidewalk across from Lincoln Center was flooded with hundreds of musicians, union allies and supporters, and was attended by many of NYC’s biggest labor unions, including members of AGMA, SAG-AFTRA, the Writers Guild of America, Actors Equity, IATSE, and others (watch a video recap). That same night, in an act of collective solidarity, musicians stood together in silence from the orchestra pit before tuning (watch a video recap).

Musicians have set up a petition to demand a fair contract; to date, 3,800 supporters have signed. In early September, the orchestra overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike, which would allow the musicians to strike if contract talks break down. The musicians are providing updates at their public website www.paytheorchestra.com.

"We will be out here until the management of the NYC Ballet gives us a fair contract," said Local 802 President Sara Cutler. "Musicians are suffering. Our message to management is loud and clear: you can’t continue with business as usual while you mistreat your musicians by not offering a fair contract."