SAN FRANCISCO—Musicians with the San Francisco Symphony went on strike Wednesday after a stalemate was reached in a contract dispute with the Symphony’s management—canceling at least one concert and putting the Symphony’s East Coast tour at risk.
Musicians say management’s proposed three-year contract puts them behind their peers in other world-class orchestras.
“We are at a stall in our negotiations. All we are asking for is to be treated fairly with an organization that we care about,” said Brian Marcus, a bassist with the symphony for 32 years, at a protest in City Hall on Tuesday.
The strike, which the musicians agreed upon by vote Wednesday, cancels at least one concert Thursday and is putting the Symphony’s East Coast tour, scheduled from March 20–23, at risk. The tour includes performances in New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
According to David Gaudry, Chair of the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee, the contract proposal is disrespectful of the musicians, asking them to take a pay cut when “there clearly is money.”
Speaking at the City Hall protest, Gaudry said the members of the Symphony are concerned about the direction the orchestra is going.
“We have been observing over the last couple of years a change in the culture of the San Francisco Symphony. There seem to be fewer resources allocated to the artistic product, and money seems to be allocated in other directions,” he said.
The players insist that the financial situation of the symphony does not justify what they call a pay freeze and cut in health care benefits for the musicians, while the management is considering a half-billion-dollar extension of the symphony hall.
But according to the Symphony’s management, the contract proposal “would have kept the musicians among the three highest paid orchestras in the country.”
“We are disappointed that the musicians have chosen to strike,” said Brent Assink, Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony, in a statement.
The management of the symphony said that the production expenses have increased by 8.1 percent, outpacing an increase in revenues of 2.4 percent, and “if not addressed, would threaten the long-term economic sustainability of the organization,” according to a press release.
The Symphony’s contract proposal put the minimum base salary at $141,700 which will increase to $144,560 by the end of the contract. The offer maintains existing benefits, such as a 10-week paid vacation, a full-coverage health plan with no monthly contribution, and a maximum pension of $74,000 annually.
But according to Gaudry, that falls short of the salaries offered to their peers.
“The Los Angeles Philharmonic is an orchestra that pays its base minimum salary around 7,500 dollars higher per year than what’s paid here in San Francisco,” he said.
“We’re concerned about losing ground to our better-paid peers who work in cities with much lower costs of living,” Gaudry said.
According to Gaudry, the organization is in “excellent shape.” He says there is no reason management shouldn’t be able to increase wages, since the Symphony’s endowment has increased by over $100 million since 2005.
According to bassist Brian Marcus, “the artistic quality of the orchestra is a reflection of the contract,” fearing that the proposed contract won’t attract the future talent the orchestra needs.
The Musicians’ Negotiating Committee says that if $10 million were used for increases in wages, pensions, seniority, and an increase of funds allocated to the instrument loan program, that would meet their requirements.
Additional reporting by Christian Watjen
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