NYC Ballet Orchestra on the Verge of Strike! What’s Pushing World-Class Musicians to the Brink?

In a pivotal development, the musicians of the New York City Ballet (NYCB) orchestra have cast an “overwhelming” vote to authorize a potential strike. This action comes as negotiations with NYC Ballet Orchestra management for a new contract continue, with the possibility of a strike looming if discussions reach an impasse. Currently, the NYC Ballet Orchestra is scheduled to stage George Balanchine’s iconic production, “Jewels,” from September 19th to the 24th.

The musicians, represented by the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 (AFM), are seeking increased wages. They endured a 15 percent salary reduction when they returned to live performances after the COVID-19 pandemic. AFM alleges that despite ticket sales surpassing pre-pandemic levels, the musicians’ compensation has not been restored to its pre-pandemic standard nor adjusted for inflation.

Tino Gagliardi, President of AFM, emphasized the indispensable role played by these dedicated musicians in bringing live music to the NYCB’s celebrated dancers night after night. He asserted that they deserve a contract that upholds their dignity and ensures affordable healthcare for themselves and their families. Instead, they are being presented with an offer that falls short of the wages and benefits they merit, and they are being asked to make additional financial concessions—a situation Gagliardi deems insulting and unacceptable.

Sara Cutler, President of Local 802, echoed the sentiment and called on the NYCB to present a fair proposal that compensates musicians for the sacrifices they made during the pandemic and addresses the challenges posed by inflation. Cutler pledged unwavering support to these musicians in their quest for the recognition and respect they rightfully deserve.

This struggle is the latest in a series of battles for the musicians’ union. Earlier this year, the union clashed with the Broadway production “Here Lies Love” over plans to rely on pre-recorded tracks rather than a live orchestra. Ultimately, after last-minute negotiations, the production agreed to hire 12 union musicians for the musical’s finale. While a significant portion of the performance continues to use pre-recorded tracks, the agreement marked a significant win for the musicians’ union.

To garner support for NYCB orchestra musicians, AFM has launched a petition advocating for their cause, emphasizing the need for a just and equitable resolution to their contract negotiations.

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