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Breaking: Atlanta lockout is over as players cave in

After weeks of lockout, involving loss of wages and health benefits, the bitter dispute ended suddenly tonight.

UPDATE here.

Here’s the musicians’ press release:

Atlanta Symphony Musicians Accept New Agreement Including $5.2 Million In Concessions


Atlanta, GA, September 26, 2012:  


The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association (ASOPA) announced that the musicians voted to accept a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the term of September 23, 2012 –  September 6, 2014.


In an unprecedented and extremely painful move designed to keep the music going, ASOPA agreed to every dollar in concessions that the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) and ASO management have demanded since the lockout began on August 25.  In the interest of continuing to bring music to the community and opening the season on time, ASOPA has accepted $5.2 million in concessions over a brief two-year agreement.


The concessions were made against the backdrop of ASO board chair Jim Abrahamson’s claim that the ASO is “on the brink of extinction.”  Despite its executives’ dire assessment, the only ASO gesture toward sharing the financial pain is an agreement that CEO Stanley Romanstein, his second in command Donald F. Fox (whose salaries alone were $314,000 and $291,000, respectively, according to the most recent IRS documents filed by the ASO) and three other ASO  managers  will merely have their aggregate pay cut by 6%.  No staff running ASO subsidiaries, including Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, will be affected. The musicians had proposed that all staff earning the equivalent of their base salary and above share equally in the musicians’ sacrifices, which would have yielded exponentially greater savings.


Those charged with overseeing the ASO have done historic damage to the future of the Orchestra by insisting on an arbitrary “musicians’ share” of $5.2 million. They have set the ASO back over 31 years in work weeks for the musicians and over 10 years in musicians’ compensation, not even taking inflation into account. This will make it all the more challenging to retain and continue to attract the talent that has brought international acclaim and national prominence to Atlanta’s Grammy award-winning ensemble.


The musicians’ costs were a mere 28% of the total ASO budget in recent years, a figure which will now drop to 24%. Yet the musicians will now produce the vast majority of the savings demanded by the ASO and the WAC, absorbing 17% and 14% individual pay cuts in the two years of the agreement. The number of musicians will drop from 95 to 88, a figure that is almost eclipsed by the current ASO administrative staff of 74. The season will be reduced from 52  to 41 weeks in 2012-13 and 42 weeks in 2013-14. The musicians also agreed to shoulder part of their health insurance premiums, and to increased flexibility in working conditions, allowing ASO management to utilize the orchestra in smaller ensembles simultaneously.


When the ASO was last the size and season length it is being reduced to now, the administrative staff was smaller than 15.  The musicians are not, and have never been, the cause of financial problems at the ASO, and in light of these agonizing cuts cannot be cited as such in the future. Their world-class performance is in stark contrast to that of the ASO’s leadership, both current and past. Management must be held accountable for under-performance at nearly every level for the past decade. For example, the operations of the ASO’s expensive summer venues, Chastain Park and Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre (where the musicians will hardly play in the future) have repeatedly failed to meet revenue projections. These failures account for a huge proportion of the ASO’s recent deficits.  The ASO and WAC boards and the public must demand serious results from management — results that will begin rebuilding the ASO to major-league status.


The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have agreed to these deep concessions for one reason alone, and that is to do what they do best: continue to play great music for their public at an extraordinarily high level.  They hope you will join them in support and recognition of this sacrifice by attending upcoming concerts, donating generously, and recognizing that the people on stage are the assets that must be preserved.



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  1. Interesting news which makes Norman’s comments about the Chicago Symphony deal look extremely prescient…

  2. Very sad to see this type of one-sided cost cutting. The size of the ASO staff is shocking, although the top salaries are not – they seem to exist everywhere. It’s enough for a seasoned musician to start questioning why he or she wastes one’s time on stage, instead of spending perhaps 1 more year getting an MBA, and simply joining the ranks of well-paid management… The thought has certainly crossed my mind.

  3. Joy Youshdknow says:

    Bravo to the Atlanta Symphony Musicians; though I hope they find a better contract soon.
    However! I find this blog offensive to all of the staff that work tirelessly; for a fraction of what these musicians get paid. This isn’t just the Atlanta Symphony; this is many orchestras across the nation. Reduce the size of the staff to 15 and there won’t be any money or concerts. The person that wrote this blog has no idea the work it takes to run an orchestra this size.

    • This blog, in no way, questioned the dedication or work ethic of the staff. What the author did point out is that there were almost as many staff as musicians who shouldered NO responsibility for A) causing the financial difficulties or B) compromising in any way to keep the organization afloat. That is outrageous! The musicians’ cost accounted for 28% of the ASO budget, yet they shouldered the greater burden of cuts. They reduced the number of players. They reduced the number of concerts. And they STILL need 74 staff members to facilitate 11 fewer weeks of music?! Outrageous!!! Please note the author’s point that, when the ASO was last comprised of 88 players, there were only 15 staff members. Now there are 74?!?! If this orchestra survives this “agreement,” enjoy it, because no musician will want to work in such a toxic, under appreciated environment. Truly a sad turn of events.

    • Well said Joy. As someone who spent many years as a 20-hour a week musician in a well-known orchestra, then jumped to a 60 to 80-hour position in management “for a fraction” of my previous salary, I couldn’t agree with you more!

    • Rene Salazar says:

      Joy(and Pacer1),
      I have worked in both performance and management, and I can tell you, yes, management does a lot of work; BUT they didn’t have to start their education when they were 5-10 yrs old, dedicate themselves to it through secondary school, continue on through college and grad school (most of the time expensive, especially considering what the average salaries of a musician are in this country), in order to do their jobs. I mean absolutely no offense to the people that are paid to run these organizations. I understand how much work it takes, but I can tell you three things. One, if you need 74 to manage an 88 member symphony orchestra, you are NOT being efficient with your resources, and people in management are NOT being as efficient or productive as they should be. Two, if 7 musicians not playing to their top abilities were the reason for the orchestra failing, I could understand those positions being cut (but let’s face it, we all know that isn’t the case). Three, and again, no offense, but people don’t go to concerts to see the people in management. The people on stage are highly trained performers, and when done right, their job is more physically and emotionally tiring then the management’s job that takes more time.
      I am glad that they have started working again, but when cuts are being made from a non profit organization, I am sorry to say, the cuts need to start with management, because when you reduce the quality of the product, all your funding will go away. People within management need to be held accountable for their failures, and I am not necessarily talking about the “lower” members of the organization or staff. Most of the time when non-profits fail, it’s because Management DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THE WORD MANAGEMENT. In many fields, not only mine, one of the biggest problems is that there is a lack of understanding of what actually needs to get done, which people you need handling which jobs, and how many of those people you actually need. It sounds like ASO is one of these organizations. I don’t want to see anybody lose their jobs, but in this case, it wasn’t the musicians job to manage the orchestra, so they shouldn’t be the ones taking the brunt of the cuts. I would venture to say that many of the people that can be let go in management, that aren’t being let go, probably shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. It isn’t their fault. It is upper management not doing their job in correctly analyzing how to run their business. Everybody should have to share in the pain, but least of all the people that had nothing to do with it’s downturn.
      NOW begs the question, can the musicians be more a part of management, and therefore be more accountable for their jobs? I think this is something that needs to be seriously considered in the future. Having been a part of a non profit myself, I can tell you that it is a job that is difficult and that every musician should do for a while, because you do understand what the other side is about and I think this is where we fail greatest of all. The sides, in general, do not have a real understanding of the lives of the the others, and therefore have no real empathy. Musicians get a little diva-y sometimes about their work, and staff doesn’t always know what it’s like or what it takes to be a musician at that level trying to maintain their abilities.
      Everybody’s gonna have to suck it up, but unfortunately, the wrong people are going to be hit the hardest.

  4. This will so obviously poison the working atmosphere in Atlanta, they might as well disband the ensemble.

  5. ASO Management has continually played with these percentages by claiming that the musicians’ salaries accounted for 28% of the the TOTAL cost of the ASO’s budget, but more than 50% of the cost for production of the classical, pops and educational concerts….in other words– the music. Which begs the obvious question: how is the other portion of that $45mil budget being used, and where is the accountability for 50% of this organization’s budget? Perhaps an independent financial institution should be taking a closer look at this avowed nonprofit organization to see if there might be some questionable underperformance or perhaps even incompetency, for which the musicians are being held accountable. It does raise the obvious question that if the organization has cut its product down in numbers and cost, and eliminated close to 20% of its season, there should be an evident reduction in overall budget.

  6. Betsey Neely says:

    I want the musicians to know that at least one devoted member of the audience appreciates the sacrifices they are making in order to preserve what I personally think is the best feature Atlanta has to offer its residents and visitors. What Robert Spano has brought to our community in terms of creativity, enthusiasm and talent is immeasurable. We almost lost Robert Shaw decades ago because of the arrogance of the old guard, and saved the Orchestra and chorus only through the intermediary efforts of Caroline Hitz, who later became Shaw’s wife. I understood at that time that the criticism of Shaw was that he was shy and did not enjoy “mingling” with donors and that he was not “social” enough. I would urge our talented musicians to have faith in the educated and caring people of Atlanta, and to please not abandon ship and jump to other orchestras with better management. The board members and executives, as well as their legal advisors, are probably well-meaning, but seem to me to be out of touch with reality, with “real people”, and with the times in which we are living. Surely some of these management costs can be alleviated if we cut back on some of the ancillary activities we can no longer afford and concentrate on the core function of providing musical inspiration for the entire metropolitan area. Not many of us are able to send large financial donations in addition to the costs of season tickets, but if there is anyone reading this who is in a position to help contribute to the future of this significant Atlanta institution, I hope you will understand that those of us who love the Symphony will be extremely grateful for your willingness to step up and get us out of this mess. We must make the necessary changes to keep our reputation for far sighted and progressive leadership in Atlanta.

  7. Stephen Carpenter says:

    And what happens next year? What happens to Bruckner and Mahler and Strauss, let alone new music? It’s hard to convince people that this is not about the musicians or the music but the name of the organization has music all over it.

    I’m hoping that the audience in Atlanta can find their way trough this and have the knowledge to stand up for what they want. and have the courage to stand up to the management that is keeping them from the music they wish to have. We will all be enriched if that happens.

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