(and contract talks continue... a far better outcome than the murky
situation all this week)
Symphony China Trip Saved [from www.sfcv.org]
After 72 hours of intense negotiations between the San Francisco
Symphony administration and S.F. Musicians Union Local No. 6,
the parties agreed Friday morning to continue preparations for
the orchestra's tour of China next week.
The two sides continue to be locked in difficult contract talks,
but have announced "an agreement to perform the orchestra's
historic tour of China as scheduled." Just a week before departure,
the decision to cooperate avoids a threatened cancelation. The
Feb. 9-13 tour includes opening of Hong Kong Arts Festival on
Feb. 11, and the Symphony's first-ever visit to mainland China,
with an appearance in Shanghai. For details, see www.sfsymphony.org
At a time when salary figures are at the crux of contract
negotiations, no information is available how much the China
tour costs the Symphony. Ticket prices at the Festival's opening
concert (with Copland, Mahler, and Dvorak) range from 90 to 700
HK dollars. The festival also features the Orchestra of the Age
of Enlightenment, the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, and a
coproduction of "Don Giovanni" by Semper Opera Dresden and Opera
Nuremberg. The SFS Feb. 12 Shanghai concert will be the orchestra's
first-ever performance in mainland China. Cellist Lynn Harrell
is the soloist. Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFS musicians give
a day of master classes for Shanghai Conservatory of Music
First reports of the tour being in question appeared over last
weekend when a memo from the union to the orchestra's 103 musicians
came to light. The memo called the administration's last offer
"inferior" to contracts at other major music organizations in
the country. The union recommended that unless there is a better
offer or settlement by the end of January, musicians should not
participate in the Asian tour.
Using average annual wage figures, the San Francisco Chronicle
reported the "final" Symphony offer of increasing the current
$112,320 figure to $115,960, and to $129,220 in the following
year. (In Boston and Los Angeles, the annual basic wage average
is $121,888; in New York, $118,092; Chicago and Philadelphia,
slightly under that - all of them going up in coming years.)
Earlier this week, in response to a Classical Voice request for
comment, SFS Executive Director Brent Assink said the administration's
"first and foremost" concern is that the musicians "must be
provided with a fair and comprehensive compensation and benefit
package. We are doing our best to find a solution that gives our
talented musicians a contract deserving of our stature as one
of the top orchestras in the country and also sets a prudent
financial course for the future of the orchestra."
Assink, however, also warned that "we cannot compromise the
long-term artistic health of the orchestra by offering a package
that is not in keeping with the very real financial challenges
and considerations facing the Symphony right now and in the
David Schoenbrun, president of Local 6, said later that he too
is primarily concerned with "not compromising the artistic product
that's the most important consideration for the musicians," but
he cautioned against a "compensation package that would compromise
the ability of the orchestra to recruit and retain the best
musicians, in competition with other orchestras."
On Thursday, administration and union spokesmen withheld comment
until a joint statement could be issued. As the issue of the
China trip became a bone of contention, reflecting the larger
problem of the contract, cancelation would have boded ill for
the near future, including the possibility of an orchestra strike.
Conversely, the last-minute agreement forged this morning to
save the tour could be the harbinger of contract talks taking a
turn for the better.
The last time musicians of the San Francisco Symphony went
on strike, there was significant financial, psychological, and
public-relations damage for management and union alike. Beginning
Dec. 3, 1996, the strike went on for 10 weeks, even though the
immediate cause was something relatively minor: the $40 per week
difference between the $150 raise demanded by the musicians'
union and the $110 offered by management.
Money was only an apparent reason for a protracted and bitter
dispute. The real cause, expressed in mutually vituperative
accusations, could not be handled until the two sides went into
professional conflict-resolution workshops and retreats - emerging
with a new attitude they termed "a model for other institutions."
The result was a settlement, a three-year contract followed in
1999 by a virtually conflict-free agreement on an unprecedented
six-year contract - a strengthened "marriage" instead of a bitter
divorce. The sky, however, has darkened once again over Davies
Hall. Negotiations on a new contract have been going on for some
six months now, but a happy ending looks more and more elusive.
Also this week, Tim Paulson, executive director of the San
Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO, requested the San Francisco
Board of Supervisors to investigate the Symphony's accounting
practices, "its refusal to use the endowment for the musicians
and its creation of illusory deficits." Paulson specifically
cited MTT's $1.5 million annual salary "for part-time work" as
a sign that the Symphony, with its $174 million endowment, is
"one of the most financially healthy orchestras in the country."
The Council executive director told the Board of Supervisors
that the Symphony management, nevertheless, is "proposing a
contract that would place the musicians below their colleagues
in other leading orchestras such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia,
Boston, Chicago, and New York, and on par with what the financially
troubled Cleveland Orchestra pays its musicians."
About the "illusory deficits," Paulson cited the Symphony's
reported surpluses between Fiscal 2001 and 2004, but "six months
into the labor negotiations, in August of 2005, management
suddenly reported its first deficit ($2.4 million) to the operating
budget in five years while concurrently adding $15 million to
the endowment. In short, management created an illusory deficit
during 2005 - which happened to be a contract-negotiation year."
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