The Florida Orchestra and musicians union ratify new contract that delivers 12 percent raise over three years

Musicians with the state’s largest professional orchestra will earn a base pay of $43,316 for the 2022–23 season.

click to enlarge The Florida Orchestra - c/o The Florida Orchestra
c/o The Florida Orchestra
The Florida Orchestra
With a reduced schedule, Florida Orchestra (TFO) musicians took a temporary pay cut during the first year of the pandemic. But now, unionized musicians have ratified a new contract with The Florida Orchestra that delivers a 12% raise over three years, as well as an extended orchestra season.

According to TFO, the new contract covering its 68 full-time professional musicians delivers “steady musician wage increases,” with a 5% pay raise the first year, followed by a 4% raise the next year, and a 3% raise after that.

Musicians with the state’s largest professional orchestra will earn a base pay of $43,316 for the 2022–23 season, $46,374 for the 2023-24 season, and $50,495 for 2024-25 season, according to a TFO spokesperson. Base pay does not reflect the salaries of veteran musicians, endowed chairs, or principal musicians, who may earn additional pay for seniority, playing more than one instrument, or having a titled position. This will be the first time base pay for TFO musicians has ever exceeded $50,000.

“This was one of the most positive negotiations in all my years in orchestras – and it only took six sessions,” Mark Cantrell, President and CEO of TFO shared in a news release. “Musicians and management came together as true partners who share a common vision for the growth and success of The Florida Orchestra and the Tampa Bay region. It’s the same team approach that kept us performing successfully throughout the pandemic, and now it will help us define our destiny as a world-class orchestra.”

The American Federation of Musicians, active in Tampa Bay since 1919, represents professional musicians employed by The Florida Orchestra, as well as the Sarasota Orchestra and Florida Southwest Symphony.

Richard Sparrow, a french horn player with The Florida Orchestra and Secretary-Treasurer of the AFM local representing TFO musicians, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay the union has developed a good, “open” relationship with TFO management. Following years of stagnant wage growth, the union feels things have moved in a positive direction with new leadership in recent years.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, Sparrow said, “We were meeting at least quarterly, usually monthly” to negotiate safety protocols and to look out for the livelihood of the orchestra’s professional musicians.

In the first year of the pandemic, all staff and musicians of The Florida Orchestra took a 20% salary reduction through furlough weeks for the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021, a spokesperson for TFO told CL.

Essentially, the musicians were paid for fewer weeks of work during that 12-month period. No staff or musicians were laid off, however, and the orchestra continued to play 86 live concerts for reduced-sized audiences at St. Pete’s Mahaffey Theater during the 2020-21 season. According to TFO, this was more than any orchestra in the nation.

Clay Ellerbroek, who’s Principal Flute and Chair of the Florida Orchestra Musicians Committee, said in a statement that negotiations with TFO were “respectful and collaborative” and the union is “very pleased” with the agreement, which was negotiated ahead of their current contract’s expiration at the end of August.

“The common organizational vision and leadership of TFO by the musicians, management and the board will ensure the growth of the orchestra, help us attract the finest musicians from around the country and deliver the world-class orchestra that our community deserves,” said Ellerbroek.

When it comes to musician salaries, however, there’s still room for growth. As the Tampa Bay Times reported back in 2018, base salaries for TFO musicians have lagged behind the pay offered by other top metropolitan orchestras.

Unionized musicians employed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for instance — one of the “Top Five” in the country — earn a base pay of $181, 232. That’s far more than TFO musicians, even when you consider Chicago’s higher cost of living.

Musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who actually took a double-digit pay cut in their current contract, due to financial shortfalls caused by COVID-19-related cancellations, also earn a base pay in the six-figure range.

And living in Tampa Bay isn’t exactly cheap. Average rent has shot up 33% over the last year, according to Zumper. A report from March found that most Tampa Bay homes made more money than the average local worker. What’s more is that Tampa City Council just rejected an ordinance that could’ve put rent control on the November ballot. St. Pete meanwhile, just took its first step to letting voters decide on rent control this fall.

Still, the union ratified its new contract with “overwhelming” support, according to Sparrow, and The Florida Orchestra says the wage increases will allow the nonprofit to remain competitive with other orchestras in attracting and retaining musicians, under the leadership of TFO.

In addition to pay raises, the new contract, effective Sept. 1, 2022 through the 2024–25 season, also extends the length of the orchestra season, from 37 weeks in the 2022–23 season, to 39 weeks guaranteed for the 2024–25 season. This will allow the orchestra to bring more musical events to the Tampa Bay community, and adds additional stability in work and pay for the musicians.

The amount of paid vacation time musicians receive is also bumped up in the new contract, from two weeks to three weeks paid vacation per season. This is in addition to other benefits TFO’s full-time musicians receive, including full health, dental, vision, life, pension and retirement benefits.

“While a new contract is just one piece of a solid foundation for the future of The Florida Orchestra, it underscores that all facets of the organization are working together. The collaboration that TFO has with its musicians gives us a stability that is not that common in the orchestra world," said Gregory Yadley, Chair of TFO's Board of Directors. “This justifies the commitment of our generous patrons and donors, to whom we are so grateful. Their vital support of TFO is an investment in our community and allows us to grow and serve a thriving Tampa Bay through this magnificent orchestra and its musicians.”

The Florida Orchestra, based in the tri-city area of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, will celebrate its 55th season this fall. The orchestra is scheduled to perform more than 100 concerts in venues across Tampa Bay, including a benefit concert featuring legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman, who will perform with The Florida Orchestra for its 55th Celebration concert on Saturday, October 1, 2022, at 8 pm at the Mahaffey Theater. Season tickets are available via


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McKenna Schueler

McKenna Schueler is a freelance journalist based in Tampa, Florida. She regularly writes about labor, politics, policing, and behavioral health. You can find her on Twitter at @SheCarriesOn and send news tips to [email protected].

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