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San Francisco Symphony Musicians and Management OK New Contract

| April 13, 2013
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The San Francisco Symphony strike of 2013 is officially over. Symphony management and the union representing musicians announced this morning a contract announced two weeks ago has been approved.

Besides the financial details — the union won a 4.5 percent salary increase over the life of the 26-month agreement, but agreed to pay more for health benefits — the most interesting provision made public today is one aimed at improving communications between the symphony administration and the 106 members of the union bargaining unit. During negotiations, the musicians accused management of failing to adequately disclose financial details of the symphony’s operation.

In an apparent effort to establish trust, the symphony said the contract includes “a new process for sharing information among the musicians, Board of Governors, and administration on an ongoing basis to maintain trust, respect and understanding between the members of a sustainable arts organization.” To do that, both sides will work with an outside facilitator, the symphony said.

The dispute centered on pay and benefit issues. Symphony managers said the organization was running at an operating deficit in recent years and proposed a wage freeze and a trims in healthcare benefits. Musicians countered that increases from the orchestra’s minimum $141,500 salary were needed to keep pace with elite U.S. symphonies and that the organization’s managers had enjoyed large salary increases despite pleading poverty in negotiations.

The delay between the Easter Sunday announcement of an agreement to end the 18-day strike and today’s approval had led to speculation that the musicians weren’t thrilled with the deal their negotiators had struck. Here’s Janos Gereben earlier this week in the San Francisco Classical Voice blog:

Although a matter of speculation, the first and most obvious possible reason for the delay is if the leaders of the negotiating Players Committee are either not recommending approval of the agreement (but then why would they have agreed to the tentative agreement?) or don’t have enough votes for ratification.

Equally speculative, a fly on the wall at the SFS Board of Governors’ meeting on Thursday might have heard management negotiators recommending ratification to the board, but making it conditional on the musicians approving the agreement first.

Here are the contract details released by the union.

  • Wage freeze until Sept. 1, 2013 and a 4.5% increase over the course of the contract, with first increase beginning on Sept. 1.
  • Size of Musicians bargaining unit increased by three members over the course of the negotiation, from 103 to 106 members.
  • Musicians rejected draconian proposals to cut the pay of substitutes and extras, preserving equal pay for equal work and fighting back against the creation of a tiered work force where some workers are paid less for doing the same job.
  • Saved the medical plan that three quarters of the Musicians are enrolled in — but Musicians must pay more out of pocket costs for the plan. The Musicians were able to reject the huge increases Management was insisting upon.
  • Tenure for concertmaster, tenure for the three new librarian members of the unit.
  • Artistic gains with improved instrument loan program and commitment from Management to encourage donors to buy fine instruments to be loaned to Musicians.
  • Musicians continue to participate in a Defined Benefit Pension Plan, but no increase in benefit. The Musicians were able to beat back proposal to change retirement age from 62 to 65.
  • Musicians agreed to minimal changes in working conditions that would have had Musicians working harder for less money.
  • Musicians showed flexibility in scheduling to try to help Management continue to build audiences, a shared interest for the organization.
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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.

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