Members of IATSE Local 862 are especially happy this holiday season, and for a very good reason: The nearly 20 full- and part-time ticket sellers settled a contract with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra that expired last year and made progress by negotiating better wage increases for all and the return of spousal health benefits for their full-time members.
Eva Resick-Day, vice president of the little local and a part-time employee, posted on the union’s X account last month, in part, “With perseverance and the strength of our Union Kin, we were able to guarantee spousal health benefits for our Full Time Box Office workers, as well as incremental raises for every Box Office worker over the course of this year + the next three years. This is a big win for IATSE 862! We are grateful to the PSO for respecting our demands, and look forward to continuing our partnership!”
The local, which represents workers for both the PSO and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, approved the three-year contract that included 3% yearly wage increases for the full-time members, and part-time employees will receive 3%, 8%, 4% and 3% over the terms of the contract, which is retroactive to September 2022. The Trust has four full-time ticket sellers and the PSO has two; the rest work part time. All the part-time employees work for both entities except for just hired personnel, according to Resnick-Day.
The union and Trust came to terms in June. Resnick-Day said the contract begins a move toward parity for all members; before the settlement, full-time Trust ticket sellers made $18,650 more than the full-time PSO employees, and part-time PSO ticket sellers made $5.15 per hour less than Trust employees while doing similar work. Prior to this contract, she said, the PSO ticket sellers had raises of only 1% or 2% per year, not keeping pace with inflation at all and requiring them to work for both the Trust and PSO to make ends meet.
With the new contract, a part-time worker on the job over a year — most of the local’s members — will earn $20.81 per hour at the Trust and $17.44 hour at the PSO.
PSO leaders did not respond to a request for comment on the new contract.
All ticket sellers are hired by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Resnick-Day explained, and once they believe they have a handle on operations, they are sent to Heinz Hall, too, because it’s more challenging work. Those members get more hours, and work at both. The schedule is made jointly by the union.
She said her local members acknowledged the difficult financial situation the PSO finds itself in, and because of the many arts venues the Trust covers and the real estate it owns, it is in a much better financial condition. But the spousal benefits issue was non-negotiable this year. Some years back, Resnick-Day said, full-time PSO ticket sellers had agreed to give those up for an increase of wages instead, acting individually rather than collectively for all its members.
Resnick-Day believes union solidarity made the difference in this contract. The negotiation team included the local’s entire elected board, led by a new president, and those members showed up for most sessions. So having five to six local members at the table during the sessions “wasn’t always the case in the past.”
“Taking a stand was important,” Resnick-Day, 33. “We actually had an opportunity to impact what we won..”
That push included an awareness campaign on the local’s issues, especially the spousal benefits, and she said the local’s membership — they wore union swag to work — became much more engaged.
Help from a different IATSE international representative, Dan Little, also contributed, she said. He helped them understand legalities associated with negotiations and helped them request important information from the PSO that strengthened their case for a move toward parity. The information request included all grants, loans, tax credits, tax incentives and assistance from public or private sources, including during the pandemic when the union members’ salaries were frozen.
Another difference toward the end of the contract talks: The PSO had Marty Bates, its executive vice president and chief operating officer, at the bargaining table instead of the director of communications and marketing.
The result was some pull-back on wage increases to win back those spousal benefit coverage, Resnick-Day said. “So there are mixed feelings about the way it ended,” she said. “But we did get larger raises than they had accepted in the past and won spousal benefits back after decades.”
Bill Van Ryn is one of the two full-time ticket takers, and he has 20 years of service to the PSO. The return to spousal benefits heartens him.
“It was really the one thing we wanted the most,” he said. “Of course, we wanted more money. For years the PSO has been light-years behind the Trust in what it paid its employees. It had become so egregious that people didn’t want to work for the symphony anymore. Part-timers made what I made as a full time. The [spousal] benefits was the one thing we were not going to compromise on.”
He called the earlier deal to forgo those benefits made decades ago as “bizarre.”
“Any ground we gained when they did that is long gone,” Van Ryn said. “They [the PSO] have nickel and dimed us since then. People who made that deal are not here anymore. The organization would not hear it and not budge. We were not going to accept that from us anymore. A new employee coming off the street — any full-time position in the organization — would get those medical benefits but not us.”
Van Ryn had personal experience with the problems this can cause when his partner, who works in health care, had to go on disability leave. “Now I now if anything changes in my partner’s future, we will be fine,” the 53-year-old said.
He and the other full-time employee have to wait one year for the spousal health benefits to begin, but Van Ryn said that was the one compromise the local was willing to make.
Van Ryn said a benefit from his union membership has been the pension the union had negotiated with the PSO in a previous contract as well as the 401(k) plan that succeeded it. “One of the reasons I stayed so long was for many, many years, we had a pension. That is valuable. It is still there. But they stopped contributing to it about four years ago. So, it is still frozen. I will still get that to the point where they stopped it. They gave us a 401(k) after that, and they make a nice contribution to it. It’s not as good as our pension, but it is close.”
In return for all of this, Van Ryn said the ticket sellers provide a valuable service to the PSO with their expertise.
Resnick-Day agrees. She is a relative newcomer, starting work in February 2022. “We have a number of part-time ticket sellers that have been doing the job for decades as well, which is something that really surprised me and made me want to stay,” she said. “It could so easily be viewed as a transient job, but that’s not true for union box offices.”
And Resnick-Day, who previously worked as an organizer and in other positions for the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, will be even more involved and engaged in all activities in the future. She just accepted a full-time ticket-seller position with the Trust and PSO this past week.
She and the other local leaders pledge to continue to work hard for their members. “Coming out of this with a win will empower us going forward, especially when we all stand together,” she said.
For now, they can take a break but not quit union activism. They plan to spend time learning about how the union functions, attending IATSE training, meeting more regularly with members and connecting with other union locals here.
And they want to help the PSO and Trust, too, Resnick-Day said. “Our social media team has been going strong, promoting shows that union ticket sellers work. Our message: Buy union.”