Days after the tragic death of principal oboist William Bennett, musicians of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra have voted unanimously for an all-out strike unless progress is made in their contact talks.
The players, who have been out of contract for a month, are facing demands for cuts in medical benefits and a freeze in pay. They argue that a company which has embarked on a half-billion dollar construction program can surely afford to cover the health of its musicians – a claim which is given added poignancy by the recent tragedy. They also complain that key players are being enticed away by higher pay at rival orchestras.
Here’s their side of the story:
(UPDATE: You can read the management side here).
For Immediate Release March 7, 2013
San Francisco Symphony Musicians Unanimously Vote to Authorize Strike In Advance Of East Coast Tour
Vote Comes One Day After Musicians Call on Management to Open All Financial Books, Which Has Yet to Happen
San Francisco, CA- Last night the Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony voted unanimously to authorize a strike if contract negotiations with management continue to stall. Management is seeking freezes in Musicians wages and pension, and cuts in medical benefits, while the Musicians have proposed an agreement that will maintain the excellence of the Symphony and help to compete directly with their higher-paid peers in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Yesterday, the Grammy-Award winning musicians, who have been negotiating for eight months and performing without a contract for thirteen weeks, called for management, which has awarded itself significant raises and is pursuing a building expansion at a cost of more than half-a-billion dollars, to once and for all publicly open its financial books in an attempt to get a clear understanding of the Symphony¹s financial picture, including how Management allocates the $2.6 million of public money it receives. The musicians have set next week as the deadline to get a deal done, which is when the Symphony will embark on a high profile tour of the East Coast, including Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The Musicians have never left on such a tour without a contract.
“Given the amount of tax-payer funding involved, the Musicians and other stake-holders deserve to have all the financial documents open to the public so we can understand how Symphony executives can on one hand be giving themselves significant raises and embarking on massive spending programs while on the other hand be asking the Musicians to make major sacrifices,” said Dave Gaudry, Chair of the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee. “The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony just won our fifteenth Grammy, but our ability to continue to be a top tier symphony and compete against Chicago and Los Angeles will be directly impacted if Management continues to pursue an agreement with such draconian cuts.” The musicians contract expired on Sunday, February 10th, the very same day the Symphony won the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance of 2012. With an endowment that has increased in value by 83% over the last ten years and currently approaching $300 million, the San Francisco Symphony has the second largest endowment of any symphony in the country.
Management has rewarded itself with salary increases substantially greater than provided for musicians; has developed plans to embark on a major redesign and renovation of the Davies Symphony Hall at a cost of up to a half billion dollars; and has increased the budget $11 million over last year for a Centennial Celebration party — while demanding a wage freeze and calling for increasing the costs to be borne by the musicians, including benefit reductions.
In their letter to San Francisco Symphony Executive Director Brent Assink yesterday Tuesday, the musicians said, ‘We fear that Management has lost sight of its mission. If the Symphony is financially strong enough to pursue a renovation of up to half a billion dollars in the name of providing a world class venue and can increase the compensation of top Management in order to maintain world class managerial talent, it certainly ought not to be seeking to reduce the compensation and benefits of the working Musicians.
‘Management asserts that the wage freeze and benefit reductions are needed because of the financial condition of the Symphony, but they refuse to be transparent about the Symphony¹s finances. Musicians have asked for specific information related to how Management allocates resources, including the relationship between the endowment and budget, the amount spent on programming and where the public money is spent, including a breakdown of how management spends the approximately $2.6 million in public support provided to the Symphony.
‘The musicians stress the importance of agreeing to a contract that enables the symphony to maintain its status as one of the top orchestras in the country. The letter to management states that the contract must preserve our ability to continue our artistic excellence including the capacity to compete with our already higher paid peer orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony, both of which operate in cities with significantly lower costs of living. When it comes to attracting and keeping the musical talent needed to maintain the artistic quality of the orchestra and earn future Grammy Awards, San Francisco’s extraordinarily high cost of living and our lower compensation already make us vulnerable, even without adopting the regressive contract terms you have proposed. As you are well aware, next season we are losing a world class timpanist, David Herbert, to Chicago, which would be like the San Francisco Giants losing Buster Posey to the Dodgers. The Giants have won two World Series in three years not because they had a world class stadium to play in, but because they had world class talent.
‘The Symphony’s endowment has increased in value by 83% over the last ten years as more than $145 million in new endowment and special programming funds were raised during the period encompassing the greatest recession since the great depression. In the ten-year period from 2001 through calendar year 2011 top symphony leadership received salary increases in amounts substantially greater than the increases provided for musicians. The salary for the Executive Director increased by 79% — over 50% more than the increases for the Musicians over the same time frame. According to the latest IRS 990 forms, in 2010 the Music Director was paid $2.4 million, 18.5 times more than the guaranteed base pay for musicians. The San Francisco Symphony increased its budget by almost $11 million last year for the Centennial Celebration party. The improvements that the Musicians are seeking in the next contract will cost less than the Centennial Celebration cost.’