Musicians and Erie Philharmonic in Contract Talks - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather, Events

Musicians and Erie Philharmonic in Contract Talks

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Negotiators for the Erie Philharmonic and its musicians spent the day at the bargaining table, with a federal mediator, trying to hammer out a new contract.  The labor agreement for about 60 contract musicians expired August 31. 

The Erie Philharmonic is celebrating it's 100th season and both sides agree they would like to have the contract issue resolved for opening night of the symphonic series this Saturday. Avery Fisher Prize winner Gil Shaham, one of the top violinists of our time is scheduled to perform with the orchestra.  He's one of the special guests programmed for the anniversary season.

Bill Fairgraves, President of the American Federation of Musicians Local 17 is representing the union musicians in the talks.  He talked to WICU/WSEE before going into the negotiations. "We just hope that we could get an agreement that's agreeable to both musicians and the symphony and that our musicians can continue doing what they do," said Fairgraves. 

The union took a strike authorization vote earlier this month.  They say wages haven't kept pace with the cost of living, and neither have travel expenses for players who come from out of town. Those musicians now account for 75% of the orchestra.

Erie Philharmonic management wants to be fair, but they are a non profit orchestra, dealing with economic issues too.  The bargaining session was the first attended by new Executive Director Jeff Collier, although the talks have been underway since April.  "We want to maintain a great relationship with our musicians," said Collier, "so we can continue providing great music for the community, we are committed to making that happen."

Fairgraves told us that in the 100 years of the orchestra, there has never been a strike, although they've come close. "It's never happened before, but it could," he said.  Fairgraves gave a great review of the musicians he is representing at the bargaining table.  "They're very good musicians too," he said. "The ones that play in the symphony are the best we get." 

The orchestra is a non-profit organization and Collier told us community support is absolutely necessary to remain sustainable. "We have so many relationships throughout the community that we rely on to make it happen," said Collier.  "You know the cost of a ticket that people pay for admission doesn't actually cover the cost of a concert, so we're always having to remain vigilant both for the orchestra and community at large."

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