Labor strife has plagued orchestras and opera companies across the country in recent years, but a Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians’ strike in 1975 illustrates that such issues have long affected classical music organizations.
On Sept. 29, 1975, the 104 orchestra members went on strike for 46 days after an extension on their contract had expired.
They’d passed on a proposed $90 weekly salary increase over three years, claiming that additional work would account for almost half of that raise.
Local 60-471 of the American Federation of Musicians picketed outside Heinz Hall. The work stoppage affected not only PSO concerts, but also Pittsburgh Ballet Theater shows and Pittsburgh Opera performances in which the musicians also performed. The negotiations required the intervention of a state mediator, The Pittsburgh Press reported.
“It’s too bad we had to go out (and strike),” said union president Herbert Osgood, “but we want to make Pittsburgh the absolute tops in the symphony world.”
Eventually, the musicians and the Pittsburgh Symphony Society agreed to a new contract, which included a gradual, three-year increase in weekly base salary, from $305 to $400 (between $1,350 and $1,800 in 2014 dollars).
It remains the only strike in PSO history.