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Philharmonic Stalemate Continues As Players Refuse Contract

Fort Wayne Philharmonic musicians battled the wind Friday, May 21, 2021 to line the Allen County Courthouse Green with printed letters to the Philharmonic board members.

Fort Wayne Philharmonic musicians announced Friday they would not vote in favor of a contract that “contains permanent cuts” to wages or conditions.


The Fort Wayne Philharmonic announced Tuesday it would need to begin canceling summer concerts if an agreement with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Players Association could not be made by Friday.


The announcement came hours after musicians met on the Allen County Courthouse Green to show the results of their letter writing campaign. Musicians unfurled five rolls of taped together letters to the Philharmonic board -- about 1300 letters in total.


Negotiations between management and the musician’s union have been ongoing since last fall, a few months after musicians were furloughed by management due to the ongoing pandemic.


Since then, musicians have called management’s negotiations “unfair,” and the Philharmonic was placed on the American Federation of Musicians’ “International Unfair List” in November of 2020, making it the only orchestra in North America currently on the list.


In December, the Philharmonic canceled its holiday concerts after out-of-town guest musicians were let out of their contracts. Management said the request for release came after the union asked the replacement musicians not to work with the Philharmonic.


The International Unfair List is meant to discourage other musicians from working with orchestras on the list.


Throughout negotiations, management has said their negotiating team has offered several options to musicians, but that musicians stopped returning to the table in September.


In December, the Players Association called management’s offer “radical and destructive.” The offer included reducing the number of full-time musicians from 63 to 15.

Also in December, musicians began picketing around Fort Wayne to bring the issue to light for the greater community and make a statement about the future of symphonic music in Fort Wayne.


Since then, musicians have picketed at Quimby Village, where the Clyde Theater is located; on the Allen County Courthouse green; in front of Barrett McNagny, the law firm representing Philharmonic management; and in front of Sweetwater Sound, which is owned by Philharmonic board chairman Chuck Surak.


In January, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) dismissed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the Philharmonic. But, in February, the Indianapolis branch of the National Labor Relations Board issued a formal complaint against the Fort Wayne Philharmonic as a result of another Unfair Labor Practice charge filed in November. 


In March, Surak released a letter to the community addressing the ongoing contract and labor dispute. In the letter, Surak said the Philharmonic was never locked in at 15 full-time musicians, but the union “would not discuss any number less than 44.”


Campbell MacDonald, spokesman for the Players Association, responded to the letter, saying Surak failed to mention a federal complaint filed against the Philharmonic, which “contradicts Surak’s statement.”


A former chief executive of the Philharmonic, Chris Guerin, also expressed concern over the ongoing labor dispute, commenting on the side of musicians on his Facebook page in March. In the post, Guerin said “the current stand-off at the Philharmonic should be of great concern to the community.”


On May 1, musicians held a May Day rally to ‘restore the music’ to Fort Wayne. The gathering on the Allen County Courthouse Green gathered several speakers from around the community and country, as well as supporters from orchestras outside of Fort Wayne.


The International President of the American Federation of Musicians, Ray Hair, was the keynote speaker at the rally. Hair flew in from Texas to speak on behalf of musicians. Guerin also spoke about his time as chief executive of the Philharmonic and the way management should work with musicians.

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