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Atlanta musicians: Romanstein is misrepresenting the figures

Here’s the latest statement from the players’ committee, in response to chief  exec Stanley Romanstein’s assertions that their salaries shot up by 23 percent since 2006 while staff pay (his own silently excluded) declined by 1.6 percent. Not true, they say.

And even if it were true, we at Slipped Disc think, irrelevant to the current dispute. Musicians’ wages were fairly negotiated and freely granted during the fat years. Now the belts are tightening, the  musicians have volunteered to surrender a substantial portion of their gains.

The real problem is the deficit of almost $20 million that Romanstein and his predecessor Allison Vulgmore have recklessly allowed to accumulate.   If any reasonable person were asked who should be paying for that, the answer must be: it’s not the musicians’ fault. Why them?

Here’s the statement:
CEO Romanstein’s Claims Disproved by ASO’s Own Numbers
Atlanta, GA, September 5, 2012: ASO CEO Stanley Romanstein mischaracterizes the
musicians’ September 4 press release as “erroneously seek[ing] to drive a wedge between the
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) Board and the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) Governing
Board,” which he further asserts “have been united” in their demands of the musicians.
Romanstein’s misstatement actually illustrates why it was important for the musicians honestly
to explain what has transpired in negotiations with the ASO since August 24. The e-mail
messages appended to this statement speak for themselves in addressing Mr. Romanstein’s
attempt to reinterpret that reality. Not only did ASO top management express their appreciation
for the musicians’ agreement with their proposal of $4 million in concessions over two years, but
they promptly and openly celebrated reaching an agreement with their administrative staff.
His condescending accusation that “ASOPA representatives continue to oversimplify the
complexity of the ASO’s annual budget and deficit to suit their argument” reflects more – and
poorly — on accuser Romanstein than on the musicians. In an article in the August 9, 2012
edition of the AJC, ASO management made these same tired claims: “Compensation for the
musicians totals $12.5 million against the $45 million budget,” and “Musician salaries have gone
up by 23% since 2006, a period in which staff salaries declined 1.7%, according to

Unfortunately for the truth, the $12.5 million figure for musician compensation
deceptively quoted by ASO management is the figure for budgeted musician compensation for
FY 2012, not actual compensation. In fact, the total musician compensation line item in the
ASO’s budget comes in consistently under budget, year after year. According to July 24, 2012
ASO Finance Committee documents, the actual FY 2012 amount for total musician
compensation was actually $11.7 million, almost $800,000 under budget for the year just
completed. [Sources: ASO Finance Committee documents and/or official data supplied to
ASOPA by ASO management in the course of negotiations.]

The raw, uninterpreted numbers don’t lie. According to ASO management’s own numbers
reported to ASOPA during the current negotiation, the increase in Total Musician
Compensation between 2006 and 2012 was actually only 16%, barely above the inflation rate
of approximately 14% during that period. And that includes quickly rising health insurance
Actual Total Musician Compensation in FY 2006 = $10,133,510
Actual Total Musician Compensation in FY 2012 = $11,778,444
(Total Musician Compensation Budget Line for FY 2012 = $12,555,900)
The raw numbers on actual ASO administrative staff compensation also paint a very
different picture from the ASO’s claim of a 1.7% decrease in staff salaries. Depending on a
number of variables, almost any number from 0% to 70% can be teased out of the staff
compensation numbers reported to ASOPA by ASO management.
These variables include:
–Allocations of management salaries to the Symphony Center project up until it was dropped;
–Whether or not salaries relating to Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre are included;
–Various ways of allocating staff headcount numbers;
–The fact that as many as 5 employees who were previously included in ASO payroll figures
are now on the WAC payroll instead, resulting in lower ASO staff compensation numbers.
Here is a representative calculation of ASO Staff Compensation from 2006-2012, derived from
ASO management’s own numbers, and leaving out Symphony Center and Verizon Amphitheatre
Actual Staff Compensation in FY 2006 was $4,013,628 (not including over $950,000 allocated
to management of the abandoned Symphony Center project, including large amounts allocated
to former CEO Allison Vulgamore, CFO Donald F. Fox and others).
Actual Staff Compensation in FY 2012 was $6,000,155 (not including over $860,000 for
management of Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre).

Again, the raw numbers don’t lie. Total ASO Staff Compensation increased by 49.5% from
2006 to 2012.

The ASO’s deceptive description contrasting its offer and musician vs. administrator
compensation misleads in many ways. It totally ignores the fact that all ASO musicians are
among the very top musicians in the nation on their instruments, which they must provide at their
own expense. Yet under the WAC’s demands the ASO will fall from 14th to 17th among
America’s premier 18 American orchestras – a ranking that could not be stretched to characterize
itself as overpaid, as Romanstein implies.
Going on to assert that “the musicians allowed their contract to expire on August 25, despite an
offer,” that they “are now inactive employees, and therefore ineligible for benefits” couches
deliberate bullying in administrator talk. The truth is that there was a clear agreement to continue to negotiate on August 25th, the communication to substantiate which is provided below.

Finally, Romanstein further falsely claims that the ASO “presented the Musicians’ Union with
[its] last, best, and final offer — they have yet to respond.” It was to Romanstein that the
musicians made a full proposal at the conclusion of the negotiations meeting on August 25,
which included the sought after and delivered $4 million in concessions over two years that
Romanstein had requested. The complete proposal document can be made available for factchecking.
—-Original Message—–
From: Stanley Romanstein []
Sent: Saturday, August 25, 2012 3:13 PM
To: Daniel Laufer
Subject: Media
Let’s try this as a starting point:
While the current contract between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Federation
of Musicians has expired, both parties are continuing to work towards a solution. Negotiations are
ongoing. We will gladly make comments to the media once we have reached an agreement.
Thanks, Danny.
Stanley E. Romanstein, Ph.D.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
1280 Peachtree Street NE
Suite 4074
Atlanta, GA 30309
Sent from my iPad, which sometimes auto fills in ways that create strange syntax. –more——Original Message—–
From: Virginia A. Hepner []
Sent: Saturday, August 25, 2012 4:54 PM
To:; Stanley Romanstein
Subject: Media blackout agreement
Danny and Stanley, I support your agreement on a media blackout as you continue negotiations.
Thanks to you both for your leadership to find a solution.
Virginia Hepner
President & CEO
Woodruff Arts Center
From: Stanley Romanstein []
Sent: Friday, August 24, 2012 4:35 PM
To: Daniel Laufer
Subject: Fwd: draft EC memo
Stanley E. Romanstein, Ph.D.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
1280 Peachtree Street NE
Suite 4074
Atlanta, GA 30309
Sent from my iPad, which sometimes auto fills in ways that create strange syntax.
Begin forwarded message:
From: “Abrahamson, Jim” <>
Date: August 24, 2012 15:57:29 EDT
To: Stanley Romanstein <>
Subject: RE: draft EC memo
Good idea, pls forward to him, thanks
Jim Abrahamson
Chief Executive Officer
-more-Office: 703.387.3334
Fax: 703.842.8425
Our Experience. Your Success.
4501 N. Fairfax Dr. Arlington, VA 22203
From: Stanley Romanstein []
Sent: Friday, August 24, 2012 3:56 PM
To: Abrahamson, Jim
Cc: Karole F. Lloyd; Johnson, Ben; Abrahamson, Jim
Subject: Re: draft EC memo
I would suggest, just to be safe, that we ask Tom Kilpatrick to review this prior to our sending it.
I want to be sure that we do not inadvertently cross any legal trip wires.
Stanley E. Romanstein, Ph.D.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
1280 Peachtree Street NE
Suite 4074
Atlanta, GA 30309
Sent from my iPad, which sometimes auto fills in ways that create strange syntax.
On Aug 24, 2012, at 15:50, “Abrahamson, Jim” <> wrote:
Stanley, Ben and Karole,
Here is a draft note to the ASO EC……Pls provide any comments or suggestions….thanks, Jim
To the ASO Executive Committee:
Thank you for joining our call this morning and voicing your support for Stanley and the ASO
management bargaining team. I do not think anyone expected a little over two weeks ago at our
Board meeting that we would be down to a $600K gap on August 24
. However, while the gap
has been substantially reduced, after numerous calls and meetings today, the WAC Governing
Board has made the final decision that the “best and final offer” due to the musicians Saturday
morning can be no less than the $2.6M in concessions presented in our last offer. As you know,
the WAC signs the union agreement so they do have the last word in these matters. They are
fully prepared for a work stoppage.
-more-With regard to the points raised on our call earlier today…..I have spoken with Doug and Stanley
has been in communication with Virginia. Here is a summary of their comments and decision:
1. While the support of the ASO Executive Cmte would be preferred, the final decision lies with the
WAC Governing Board. Due to representations made to investors and key donors as well as the
rating agencies, we must achieve and balanced budget and we require that half of the $5M gap
comes from the contract with the musicians.
2. The alternative solution was crafted this morning by the ASO was reviewed by Howard Finesand
and Virginia Hepner. After their meeting, they reviewed with Doug H and Larry G and that
option was rejected as the union concession was still less than the $2.6M that they are
3. With regard to negative PR, they feel that the ASO and the WAC are sufficiently prepared and
ready to deal with this matter. They consider the risk of not achieving a balanced budget is far
greater than any negative PR. This applies to considering the implication to fundraising, ticket
sales and the negative impact to other divisions of the WAC.
4. Therefore WAC Governing Board has decided that there is no need for an extension to further
internally discuss options or PR implications, the senior team at the WAC Governing Board has
reviewed the matter and has made a final decision.
The ASO will deliver its final offer tomorrow morning, we expect it to be rejected and there will
be a work stoppage at midnight tomorrow. While we are disappointed that we could not find a
path to a negotiated solution, we are still at the point that we thought we would be two weeks ago
and the team is making plans to deal with the impact of the work stoppage. Therefore we will
redirect our energies in that direction, continue to update and execute on our PR plan and
determine next steps on negotiations.

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  1. Kudos to the Musicians’ spokesperson for such eloquent and on-point communications. It is difficult to hide from the truth.

  2. Stanford Thompson says:

    What was the actual total musician compensation in FY 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011? I think you should display that information instead of just the “before and after”… the orchestra did take a cut in 2011…

  3. Michael P Scott says:

    To all interested parties: Note that you now have the e-mail addresses of some of the key players. I’m just sayin’…

  4. Will Drach says:

    The same duplicitous position from Romanstein and the Vulgamore leftover senior charlatans who have squandered resources and covered up the malfeasance for the last 5+ years. The Woodruff board is doing it’s job, finally, where the ASO board (which is loaded with holdover Vulgamorons) has not in over 10 years.
    The Woodruff parents need to disinherit the ASO senior management team snots and boot them all out the door. Burn it to the ground and start over!

    • Ah yes, those squandered resources! How terrible of the senior charlatans to award pay rises to the musicians! Awful!
      Or, as it turns out – yes, awful. Because those pay rises contribute directly to the mess they are now in.
      But in the “days of plenty”, if the senior management said no, we’re not making pay rises despite good income, because we’re going to put it aside for a rainy day – wouldn’t most complaining here have complained that the musicians weren’t being fairly awarded their share of the spoils, and would have campaigned for the very rises that help give rise to the deficit now threatening the band?

  5. Leigh Jones says:

    ASO Senior Management must go! I would like to see a full disclosure of their salaries. Atlanta can’t afford to have these selfish individuals making bad business decisions and putting those mistakes on the backs of our musicians. Concessions have been offered and in my opinion, the musicians should not have had to make those kinds of sacrifices. Who does management think they are? We don’t care about you at all. We love our symphony musicians. Someone needs to be shown the door.

  6. Rena Fruchter says:

    Mr. Lebrecht–your point is well-taken. The musicians didn’t cause the problem! Why are they expected to rescue two inept administrations? One of the tragedies of this situation is the fact that the Woodruff Arts Center and the ASO Administration have no idea what a treasure they have been asked to protect and serve.
    I live in New Jersey, and every time the ASO comes to perform in Carnegie Hall in NY, the concert is sold out, the orchestra receives a standing ovation, the concert is followed by rave reviews, and the entire nation is reminded of the strength, power, and importance of the ASO. Mr. Romanstein and his cohorts need to open their eyes and stop the abuse before it is too late–before they destroy the treasure that has been entrusted to their care.

  7. Stephen Carpenter says:

    Why does this scenario sound so familiar? Because it seems to be a successful playbook in dismantling our symphony orchestras. Big or small, how many communities have had their orchestras disband under this same kind of machination? There seems to be a strange concerted effort to erase public access to our Western music and art traditions.

  8. Trey Asmith says:

    It seems to me that Rommanstein has a problem with telling the truth. Maybe his “PR Plan” just calls for him to say what ever seems to fit at the moment and to count on the he said/she said factor to keep the public from focusing on the problem. From my perspective the ASO administrative leadership has long been inept and has now added dishonesty to incompetence. Stanley is a boob but more importantly a dishonest boob.

    It’s time for a change. The ticket buyer in Atlanta demand it.

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