NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Arts And The Union Connection

April 8, 1997

Those who know a thing or two about the relationship of economics to the arts contend that the National Endowment for the Arts has a cozy relationship with big unions which is destroying symphony orchestras in the U. S. By driving up unionized musicians' wages beyond a normal market level, the unions are pricing symphony orchestra tickets beyond what the market will bear -- all abetted by the NEA's policy of favoring unionized orchestras for grants.

  • The average wage and benefit package at the San Francisco Symphony is $112,493 annually -- including ten weeks of paid vacation.
  • Last season the San Diego Symphony permanently closed its doors, while major symphonies in Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Francisco went on strike -- demanding and eventually getting increased compensation and benefits.
  • When the orchestra at Seattle's nonprofit Fifth Avenue Theater went on strike on the opening day of its "Beauty and the Beast" production and a bomb threat was received, it had to cancel the production several times and was faced by 5,000 picketers from more than 100 unions when it tried to hire nonunion musicians.
  • Evidence indicates that U. S. record companies are going overseas and using largely nonunion European orchestras, since unionized American orchestras have priced themselves out of the recording market.

Observers say the unions are seeking to maintain their market power by restricting the number of positions for orchestral performers. The numbers bear this out.

  • There are currently 82,795 music students enrolled in American colleges and universities -- but only about 6,500 full-time orchestra positions, with only a few vacancies available to them every year.
  • In 1995, only 12,827 music degrees were awarded here -- the low number reflecting in part the disillusionment of older students becoming aware of their dismal market prospects.

Critics say that union ideology -- the idea that only those who join the club should be paid to perform -- pervades the entire grant-giving culture, including that of the NEA.

Source: Shawn Ritenour (Ludwig von Mises Institute), "How Subsidies Kill Symphonies," Wall Street Journal, April 8, 1997.


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