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San Francisco musicians: why we’ve gone on strike

You can read the management position by clicking here..

San Francisco Symphony Musicians Announce Strike

As Management Continues To Run Out The Clock By Stalling Negotiations And Refusing To Be Transparent About Symphony Finances, Musicians Announce Work Stoppage.

San Francisco, CA – Today, standing together out front of Davies Symphony Hall, over 100 Musicians announced a work stoppage as a result of management’s stalling negotiations and lack of transparency about the symphony’s finances.

“Management continues to stall negotiations and refuses to open its financial books so that we can reach a fair deal that will allow us to remain one of the best orchestras in the world,” said David Gaudry, Chair of the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee. “With one week to reach a deal and no movement on their offer, management’s strategy is clearly to run out the clock. Management is seeking a contract that will not even allow us to keep up with the cost of living, while cutting our retirement. At the same time, Management has rewarded itself significant bonuses, expanded programming and announced it will pursue a more than $500 million renovation of Davies Hall. We had sincerely hoped that there would not be a disruption, but the future of our symphony is at stake.”

After months of contract negotiations and performing without a contract for twenty-four weeks, the Grammy-Award winning San Francisco Symphony Musicians have requested that management open its financial books in an attempt to reach a fair agreement that enables the Symphony to maintain its status as one of the top orchestras in the country. The Musicians seek to reach a deal prior to March 19, the day that 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’ contract expired on Sunday, February 10, 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 pension reductions.

In a letter to San Francisco Symphony Executive Director Brent Assink, the Musicians state, “We fear that Management has lost sight of its mission. The Musicians are the single most important asset of this organization. We are the ones who bring the music to life. 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 pension reductions are needed because of the financial condition of the Symphony. However, the Musicians’ share of the overall budget has been shrinking steadily and under Management’s proposal would decline even further. The reason “claimed deficits” exist is the result of deliberate spending on other parts of the institution, not on the Musicians. Management’s offer of a “net savings” contract would shrink the resources devoted to the Artistic excellence of the Orchestra even further.

People contribute to the San Francisco Symphony because of their love of orchestral music. Diverting resources away from the people who make the music in order to support lavish bonuses for executives stands the San Francisco Symphony’s mission on its head.
The Musicians seek to better understand Management’s position in light of all the other information regarding the strong financial health of the Symphony.

In their letter to management, 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.

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  1. David Boxwell says:

    They need to spend the $500 million _outside_ of Davies. That whole blighted area is a nightmare of windswept concrete, trash, and derelicts.

  2. Someone from another orchestra says:

    I’m confused.

    If their contract only expired on February 10, how have they been playing without a contract for 24 weeks?

    Am I missing something, or is there a misprint?

  3. Roberto Gonzalez says:

    No surprise about the shady finances of the SFSO. Just remember the truckloads of lawsuits by actors and other staff in Hollywood against movie studios that never turn a profit and never pay on contractual profit points. That is why all these performing organizations are all lawyered up and loaded with accountants… UGH… This is all a California tradition… LOL

  4. I had no idea that the SFSO “competes” against those of Chicago or LA, or that any orchestra competes against any other. This isn’t baseball. On the other hand, if the musician-author of this statement wants to take a (higher paying) job with another orchestra, he/she is free to do so. Those who can’t find an opening, or pass the audition, would be struck in San Francisco, I guess. I can imaging a worse fate.

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