• WBST 92.1 FMMuncie
  • WBSB 89.5 FMAnderson
  • WBSW 90.9 FMMarion
  • WBSH 91.1 FMHagerstown / New Castle
Indiana Public Radio, a listener-supported service of Ball State University
Listen Live Online. Tap to open audio stream.

Fort Wayne Philharmonic musicians on strike for the first time in history

By Ella Abbott, IPB News | Published on in Arts and Culture, Business, Politics, Statewide News
Musicians picketed in front of the Fort Wayne Embassy Theatre Friday night, the first of their strike against Philharmonic management over wages and the number of performances. (Photo provided.)

After roughly five hours of negotiations Monday afternoon, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and its musicians’ association failed to reach an agreement.

The musicians have been on strike since last week, having been operating without a contract since September. The decision to strike amid a failure to reach a deal on salaries and other matters caused the cancellation of popular holiday concert.

On Monday, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic was placed on the American Federation of Musicians International Unfair List for the second time in three years.  It serves as a signal to others in the industry that management does not treat musicians fairly. The request was made by the local musicians association president, Samuel Gnagey, following the association’s decision to go on strike.

In 2020, the Philharmonic was placed on the list after attempting to schedule concerts with traveling musicians, while Philharmonic musicians were furloughed due to the pandemic.

Musicians met with management Monday to negotiate a contract.

The full-time philharmonic musicians are asking for a 46-percent raise, which would come to just over $32,000 a year, and management is offering an 11.5-percent raise to about $25,000.

Philharmonic President Brittany Hall called the musicians’ proposed raise “unreasonable” and said “could never be sustained.”

The amount proposed by management would not bring the musicians to pre-pandemic pay rates of about $26,000

When the strike was announced last week, Players’ Association chairperson Campbell MacDonald said, “It has been made clear to us over the course of this negotiation that the Fort Wayne Philharmonic board and management seeks to carry forth with unacceptable rates of pay for musicians, fewer concerts and a drastically reduced presence in our community.”

MacDonald said they’ve met with management almost a dozen times in recent months.

“This current wage proposal is part of a long-term strategy that will create a rotating door of employees,” MacDonald said. “We’ll have people coming and going, positions will remain unfilled. It’s a less attractive position and it’s a less attractive orchestra to be a member of.”

Hall says management has negotiated in good faith since August and intends to continue to do so until an agreement can be reached.

“I am deeply disappointed to learn about the unions intention to strike,” Hall said.

“(The Philharmonic is) flush with cash,” MacDonald said. “Everyone in that organization is getting paid well. Except for us.”

While negotiations will continue, musicians will not be rehearsing nor performing during the strike. Hall said the Philharmonic is working through next steps for ticket holders.