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San Francisco Symphony: Strike Continues, Weekend Concerts Canceled

| March 16, 2013
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Update (6 p.m. Sunday, March 17): Symphony management and musicians announced that talks have broken down, that orchestra members voted down a proposed cooling-off period, and that the symphony’s planned East Coast tour has been canceled. More details here.

Update (Saturday night, March 16): The San Francisco Symphony strike continues and this weekend’s programs featuring Mahler’s Ninth Symphony–have been canceled. As talks continue, symphony management says it will provide an update Sunday on the status of the organization’s East Coast tour, scheduled for this coming week.

The San Francisco Symphony went on strike Wednesday morning. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

The San Francisco Symphony went on strike Wednesday morning. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

The principal disputes center on pay (musicians are seeking increases to maintain parity with other premiere orchestras) and health care benefits. The musicians’ union gives its side of the story here (also see slideshow below). And here’s the latest press release from symphony management:

SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY CONCERT SCHEDULED FOR
SUNDAY, MARCH 17 IS CANCELLED
DUE TO ONGOING WORK STOPPAGE BY MUSICIANS

NEGOTIATIONS STILL ONGOING

SAN FRANCISCO, March 16, 2013 – Due to the ongoing work stoppage by musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, the concert scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 17 has been cancelled and will not be rescheduled. No further concert cancellations have been announced at this time as negotiations are continuing. An update on the status of the Orchestra’s planned three-city East Coast tour scheduled to begin March 20 will be provided Sunday.

Patrons with tickets to the March 17 concert may exchange them for an upcoming concert, donate their tickets, or receive a refund. Ticket holders who have provided email addresses or phone numbers will receive direct notification from the Symphony. Ticketholders for all cancelled concerts do not need to contact the box office prior to the cancelled concert start time. Refunds and exchanges will be honored in the days ahead.

Patrons can reach customer service by calling the Symphony Box Office at (415) 864-6000 (between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday) and receive up-to-the-minute information the Orchestra’s website at www.sfsymphony.org.

The Musicians Union of San Francisco, Local 6, American Federation of Musicians, representing musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, and the orchestra administration are working toward a new multi-year contract.

Previous posts below:

Update (Friday, March 15): The San Francisco Symphony announced today that with musicians still on strike, it’s canceling a concert scheduled for tonight (Friday, March 15) and won’t reschedule it.

That’s the bad news for symphony lovers.

The good news is that the two sides are talking. The symphony said “talks are moving forward” after a 13-hour bargaining session most of the day yesterday and into this morning. The organization says it will make an announcement about its weekend concerts on Saturday. And still in question is whether the labor dispute, which centers on salaries and health benefit costs, will be resolved in time for the orchestra to make its planned East Coast tour next week.

Here’s the symphony’s Friday press release:

SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY CONCERT SCHEDULED for FRIDAY, MARCH 15 CANCELED; LABOR NEGOTIATIONS MOVE FORWARD

SAN FRANCISCO, March 15, 2013 – Due to the labor stoppage at the San Francisco Symphony, the concert scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Friday, March 15 has been cancelled and will not be rescheduled. Talks are moving forward after a 13-hour negotiation session that continued into the early morning hours, and more talks are scheduled for Friday. No further concert cancellations have been announced at this time.

Patrons with tickets to the March 15 concert may exchange them for an upcoming concert, donate their tickets, or receive a refund. Patrons can obtain information on concerts, ticket exchanges and customer service by calling the Symphony Box Office at (415) 864-6000 (between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from noon-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday) and on the Orchestra’s website at www.sfsymphony.org.

An update for the Saturday, March 16 8:00 p.m. concert will be issued Saturday morning, and an update for the Sunday, March 17 2:00 p.m. concert will be issued by Saturday night, March 16. Ticket holders for these concerts with email addresses or phone numbers will receive direct notification from the Symphony. All news will also be posted at www.sfsymphony.org.

The Musicians Union of San Francisco, Local 6, American Federation of Musicians, representing musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, and the orchestra administration are working toward a new three-year contract.

Original post (March 13): Musicians for the San Francisco Symphony went on strike today after eight months of fruitless talks with management centered on wage and benefit issues. The immediate impact: The symphony announced a concert scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday has been canceled. Also in jeopardy: a tour to the East Coast, including stops at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Part of the planned program for the tour was “Drift and Providence” by Berkeley native Samuel Carl Adams, which the symphony premiered last fall.

The union representing musicians has been seeking a 5 percent raise to keep San Francisco Symphony players on par with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Contract talks had stalled over a union demand that the symphony open its books. Symphony management has proposed a freeze in both wages and benefits, citing players’ average salary of $165,000.

“The administration has prepared an offer, but the musicians decided to strike rather than continue negotiations overseen by a federal mediator,” said Executive Director Brent Assink.

Musicians say symphony management had offered a contract without any raises, even as Assink himself got a bonus.

San Francisco Symphony musicians last went on strike in 1997.

Here are the the press releases from the musicians’ union and the symphony on a strike called today by musicians. We’ll have more details from an 11 a.m. press conference by both symphony officials and the musicians.

Today: San Francisco Symphony Musicians To Make Major Announcement
With Just One Week Left To Reach A Labor Agreement and Management Stalling, Musicians Will Make a Major Announcement About Labor Action

WHO: San Francisco Symphony Musicians

WHAT: A major announcement by the Musicians about their labor negotiations with Management.

BACKGROUND: Last week, the Grammy Award winning San Francisco Symphony Musicians voted unanimously to authorize a strike if a deal is not reached with management by March 19, the day the Symphony is scheduled to begin an East Coast tour. Management has refused to open its financial books so that a fair deal can be reached that will keep the orchestra competitive with its peers in Chicago and Los Angeles and remain a world class symphony. Instead management is rewarding themselves with six figure bonuses and seeking a contract that will not allow Musicians to keep up with the cost of living, which is why Musicians, such as David Herbert – who is joining the Chicago Symphony – are leaving. The San Francisco Symphony receives approximately $2.6 million in annual funding support from the public, yet management will not open the books and be transparent about how those funds are being used. On March 12, management stalled negotiations yet once again, and as a result the Musicians will make a major labor announcement today.

SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY CONCERT SCHEDULED for 2:00 PM MARCH 14 CANCELLED DUE TO WORK STOPPAGE BY MUSICIANS

SAN FRANCISCO, March 13, 2013 – Due to a work stoppage by the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), the concert scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 14 has been cancelled and will not be rescheduled. Patrons can obtain up-to-the-minute information on concerts, ticket exchanges and customer service by calling the Symphony Box Office at (415) 864-6000 and on the Orchestra’s website at www.sfsymphony.org/press.

The Musicians Union of San Francisco, Local 6, American Federation of Musicians, representing musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, have rejected proposals from the Orchestra administration for a new three-year contract that would have kept the musicians among the three highest paid orchestras in the country. The administration notified the musicians that a revised proposal would be presented Thursday, March 14 but the musicians decided to strike rather than continue negotiations overseen by a federal mediator.

The latest administration proposal offered a minimum base yearly salary of $141,700 in the first year, with multi-year increases to $144,560 by the end of the proposed contract. During the most recent four-year contract, the musicians’ base minimum pay increased by 17.3%, an average of 4.3% per year. In addition to the minimum base salary, other musician compensation such as radio payments, over-scale, and seniority raises the current annual average pay for SFS musicians to over $165,000.

The administration’s most recent offer also maintained all current benefit payment levels including 10 weeks paid vacation, a maximum pension of $74,000 annually upon retirement, paid sick leave, and a full coverage health plan with no monthly contribution for individual musicians.

“We are disappointed that the musicians have chosen to strike and deeply regret any inconvenience to our patrons,” said Brent Assink, Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony. “We will continue to work hard to develop a fair agreement that gives our talented musicians a contract that reflects our stature as one of the top orchestras in the country but also one that sets a prudent financial course for the future.”

Providing affordable health care options for musicians remains a key goal. With the rising cost of health care, SFS administration proposed health care plan changes but still offered a health care plan option with no monthly contribution for individual musicians. The latest proposal also maintained a maximum $74,000 annual pension for retiring musicians, with a slight increase in retirement age to draw full pensions.

In the current economic environment, the San Francisco Symphony is facing the same challenges that other major American orchestras around the country are facing. For all four years of its most recent collective bargaining agreement with its musicians, operating expenses have outpaced operating income. While concert and related revenues have increased 2.4% compounded annually during the term of the four-year agreement, concert production expenses have increased 8.1% compounded annually. The Orchestra has incurred an operating deficit in each of those years.

“Many of America’s top orchestras are facing similar challenges with increased concert production, pension, and health care costs currently outpacing revenue growth. We are developing a multi-year plan to achieve a balanced operating model, including identifying and growing new sources of revenue and at the same time reducing the growth rate of expenses,” said Assink.

As a non-profit organization, the Symphony provides transparency about its finances in fully audited and publicly available documents in accordance with the law. The administration responded to all of the union’s specific requests for information in a timely manner throughout the negotiations. Since September, this has included over 50 formal requests for which were delivered over 500 pages of documentation.

Patrons with tickets to the March 14 concert may exchange them for an upcoming concert, may donate their tickets, or receive a refund. Patrons can obtain up-to-the-minute information on concerts, ticket exchanges and customer service by calling the Symphony Box Office at (415) 864-6000 and on the Orchestra’s website at www.sfsymphony.org/press.

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.
  • tom merle

    Let them raise their own funds rather than bite the hands that feed them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dave-Lewis/1199155332 Dave Lewis

    Minimum of $147,000 per year
    2 1/2 months of paid vacation per year
    Medical leave as well

    And they are complaining?

    I really wish I had a job where I only had to work 75% of the time for that kind of money.

    • http://www.facebook.com/GalenTheWuinator Galen Wu

      Then spend countless hours mastering your profession like these musicians

  • Texonthebeach

    What a bunch of elitist a**holes…with the economy still recovering…they decide that their contract isn’t good enough…and will strike until the ” books are opened” and they get a NEW contract….good riddance…if the mgmt has any balls they would hire a great r&b band to do the concert and then tell the orchestra (pardon meh…tho symmmmphony) that they will cut pay by 10% every week they miss a concert…then we’ll see who doesn’t think they have it so bad after all.

  • disqus_4n95b7rOtB

    A living wage? I’ve lived on less than 50K a year all my life

  • Joe Blow

    When management take a huge increase in salary, it is only fair that the musician’s receive a fair increase as well. After all, it’s the orchestra that makes the concerts happen!

    • s4p

      Agreed. Failure to HIGHLIGHT management’s salary increases while discussing the topic of orchestral compensation is a key reason why the rest of the US continues to get shafted…

  • Brian English

    The symphony loses money even with expensive tickets most regular folks can’t afford. Musicians make too much, management makes too much. If they don’t like the wage, go apply to Chicago. IMO you should get paid extra to live there, haha

  • VetsForMusic

    You do realize musicians of this caliber go to school about as much as a doctor or lawyer yes? The pay should match the skill set………just a thought

    • Bay Area Musician

      As much? Doctors and lawyers don’t start their career when they’re 10 years old.

  • STAN

    I am a professional musician and teacher. I’ve graduated in 05 and still paying student loans. The studio I live and teach out of is so small that I need a murphy bed. My salary is not even half of the starting salary and yet I don’t complain. Can’t wait to for these members to go away so we can have some real musicians that will play with real emotions from life struggles.

    • Sarah

      We all started out struggling as musicians. Winning an orchestral audition is like winning the Olympics- only the top talent succeeds. To say ‘real emotions from life struggles’ are absent from top musicians is folly. We all started out where you are right now, with real emotion and dreams.

  • sfs-patron

    Fire all the musicians and replace them with younger ones, may be with musicians from youth orchestras of the bay area. These young kids play as well as these overpaid musicians. Of course, cut the salary of the administrators too. I donate money to the symphony, and I want my money to be used wisely.

    • Bay Area Musician

      No offense, but you must not be a musician. That’s like comparing a competitive high school athletics team to the SF Giants. If what you said were true, regional part time orchestras and youth symphonies would be touring and winning grammies.

  • SFSymphonysubscriber

    Has anyone here even looked at the musicians union’s web site to get their side of the story? See http://www.musiciansofthesanfranciscosymphony.org/.

    Also, why isn’t the Chronicle all over this story?

    While I too would like to make what these artists do (was laid off by a major national magazine 4 years ago so they could hire a younger, cheaper replacement), they are more akin to pro sports players or actors than workers in most other professions, and we all know how we’ll compensated these folks are at the top of their game. It takes talent and years of hard work to become one of the 100-odd members of our world-class symphony.

  • Jeri Clark

    I am in support of the musicians for many reasons, one of them being that the SF Symphony should never make less than the LA Symphony, never! Musicians and orchestras are just as important and competitive as athletes and sports teams, and so are their communities.

    This strike is affecting many in real financial terms, and must end soon! Unfortunately it is not ending in time for my daughter, a Sacramento public school French horn player, and classical music nerd, to take her fellow HS music nerds to the symphony tonight to celebrate her 16th birthday in the company of Mahler’s 9th (her favorite).

    We have been planning this for months, bought the tickets ages ago, splurged on the good seats, all the while celebrating the fact that our daughter has chosen a different path from many of her peers (which is never easy), and looked forward to giving her,
    and her friends, this night. I suppose we should have been more cognizant, and superstitious, of the fact that the last time the musicians struck was in 1997, the year of her birth, and to plan any important event in her life in conjunction with the SF Symphony would be a risk.

    Despite the cancellation of tonight’s performance she is taking her friends to the city, they will have a great time going to her favorite places, and eatting dinner at
    her favorite restaurant, the Cafe de la Presse, but she will not be sharing a musical
    experience with her friends that she has been looking forward to for months (sigh).

    Like I said, this strike is affecting many in ways far less frivolous than ours, but it also affecting the fans (like my daughter and her music nerd friends), who just want to hear
    beautiful music, by world class musicians, in the most beautiful city in the
    world. So please SF Symphony Musicians and Management, get this dispute solved
    soon, and then try to do something for the many thousands of fans who were
    looking forward to this week’s series of concerts (in the HOME arena) that were
    cancelled because you couldn’t come to an agreement.

  • Ben

    It’s hard to care all that much about very well-off people (the musicians) arguing with extremely well off people (the management) about who gets a bigger share of the spoils, most of which I gather are from charity rather than ticket sales. I’m certainly not going to donate my money to a bunch of people who all make much more than I do, even if I do like the symphony a lot. Meanwhile the symphony audience is aging and not being replaced with younger people, making me wonder if the whole thing will even be viable in 10 or 15 years. I guess everyone is trying to get a larger share of the pie while the getting is still good. But at some point it seems perhaps the whole system may have to transform into something very different, perhaps a little leaner and meaner, or else re-invent in some way.

  • Bay Area Musician

    Bear in mind the 2 1/2 months of “paid vacation” is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion. A big part of that “vacation” is still spent practicing and preparing music for the next season. They just don’t play shows or rehearse. I know 147,000 is a very comfortable living wage even for San Francisco, but I don’t think that is the point of the strike. SFS musicians are virtuoso players, training vehemently since they were kids (do lawyers and doctors start that young?).They usually won auditions over hundreds of other serious musicians. There are great non-SFS musicians in the bay area who make great money freelancing, but SFS players should still earn more because they won the huge job. Why would you join an orchestra that demands a significantly higher standard from its musicians if it didn’t pay much more than your last gig? If an orchestra wins another grammy, management shouldn’t take bonuses and freeze the musicians pay. It’s a matter of fairness.

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