Arbitrator rules in favor of Colorado Springs Philharmonic in labor battle with musicians

Full orchestra has not performed since March 2020 due to work stoppage, contract dispute during COVID-19 pandemic
Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 2:20 PM MDT|Updated: Aug. 12, 2021 at 7:17 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The labor battle between the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and its unionized musicians continues.

But the musicians were dealt a blow Tuesday in the nearly year-long struggle with management over their canceled contract, when an arbitrator found that the board’s decision to cancel the contract was appropriate and legal due to force majeure, i.e. the unforseen circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September 2020, the board of directors canceled the orchestra’s contract, citing a lost season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Then the Pikes Peak Musicians’ Association, the union of professional musicians representing the orchestra’s musicians, entered into arbitration with the nonprofit, asserting the cancellation was illegal.

“We are disappointed and disagree with the ruling. It is binding, however, so we are looking to go back in to mediation next week and look for a new CBA with our management,” Players Committee chair Jeremy Van Hoy tells 11 News. “We will not be taken advantage of and stand united in demanding a contract that maintains our professional, salaried status.”

“This ruling is an important step in getting our Philharmonic back on track after a difficult period,” says Philharmonic president and CEO Nathan Newbrough. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, our musicians and patrons have been our first priority and we’ve taken responsible steps to support them in the short term, and to preserve their jobs for them in the long run. These are exceptionally gifted artists, and we will be working with them now to craft a new agreement with which to move forward.”

(From The Gazette: In April 2020, the two sides forged a new five-year agreement that could have increased musicians’ pay by almost 30%. It was canceled after the pandemic shuttered the orchestra’s new season, which would have opened Sept. 19, and caused revenue to plummet. The board came back with an offer in September that included more than $700,000 in wages, continued pension contributions, monthly health subsidy payments and other benefits, but it was rejected by the musicians’ union.)

The philharmonic extended a new offer to its musicians July 2, 2021 and the union is in the process of submitting their response. Meanwhile the musicians are staging a full orchestra performance on their own on Saturday, Aug. 28. Information about the event can be found here.

11 News digital anchor Jon Wiener spoke with leaders of both sides in May to discuss the ongoing dispute. Watch both of those conversations below:

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