Philly Orchestra musicians' national pension fund opposes contract proposal

Posted: October 13, 2011

Even before details have been revealed on a new labor contract for Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, the national pension fund representing 50,000 musicians says it opposes the contract because it ends the association's participation in the pension fund.

"In light of the trustees' responsibility under federal pension law, the fund currently sees no alternative to litigation to protect the interests of all of its participating musicians," said Alan Raphael, cochair of the American Federation of Musicians and Employers Pension Fund.

In a statement, the fund said "an agreement reached by the Philadelphia Orchestra Association is the culmination of a strategy to avoid its obligation to pay the fund contributions of up to $35 million it owes for benefits earned by its musicians."

But the new pact and pullout from the fund are several steps from conclusion. The contract must be ratified by players, approved by the Philadelphia Orchestra Association board, reviewed and approved by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp., and ruled on by the judge in the association's bankruptcy case.

The association declined to comment.

The $1.7 billion pension fund repeatedly has said that it will fight to recover from $23 million to $35 million it says it will be owed if the association withdraws. It is attempting in court to show that portions of the orchestra's endowment are not restricted, and are therefore available to satisfy the fund's financial claim.

Orchestra management is attempting to move musicians to a defined contribution plan from the current defined benefit plans as part of its April 16 bankruptcy petition. The deal before players calls for deep salary cuts, and for the association to contribute between about 8 and 101/2 percent to musicians' 403(b) plans, according to a sliding scale pegged to age.


Contact Peter Dobrin at pdobrin@phillynews.com or 215-854-5611. Reach his blog at http://www.philly.com/artswatch.

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