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Atlanta Musicians Locked Out

According to a 9/4/2012 press statement from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association (ASOPA), the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO), by way of their parent organization the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC), has cancelled musician healthcare benefits, thereby initiating a work stoppage by means of lockout.

lockBut what is perhaps more intriguing is that the ASOPA statement begins to cast a distinction between the ASO and WAC boards. For the most part, it is easy to see how patrons can become confused over how duties, responsibilities, and perhaps more importantly, authority is divided between the ASO and WAC. The press statement begins to shed additional light on the matter as the ASOPA excerpts an internal communication exchange between the ASO executive committee and the WAC executive board which clearly indicates final authority rests with the latter.

“…while the support of the ASO Executive Cmte would be preferred, the final decision [to accept or reject a musician offer] lies with the WAC Governing Board. Due to representations made to investors and key donors as well as the rating agencies, we must achieve and balanced budget and we require that half of the $5M gap comes from the contract with the musicians.”

Likewise, the ASOPA statement defines the following actions taken by WAC as reason for being locked out:

  1. As of August 26th, ASO musicians have been without any pay or benefits, also known as being locked out.
  2. On August 31, health, dental, and disability insurance policies for all musicians, several of whom are battling cancer and other debilitating health crises, have also been cancelled by the WAC as threatened.
  3. All musicians’ access cards to Symphony Hall and parking decks have been deactivated.
  4. Extra off-duty police have been hired at an undisclosed cost to patrol the WAC campus, creating the armed camp effect apparently sought by the WAC, despite no statements, threats or actions by ASO musicians that would necessitate such tactics and expense.
  5. All scheduled work for the Orchestra through September 24 has been canceled.

When asked for a response to the ASOPA press statement ASO Senior Director of Communications, Melissa Sanders, provided a message from ASO President and CEO, Stanley Romanstein, and between the tone of his message and that of the ASOPA press statement it appears that both sides are firmly engaged in the point-counterpoint stage of a labor dispute.

Romanstein doesn’t deny that the musicians are locked out but at the same time, doesn’t acknowledge a work stoppage and instead describes the musicians as being “inactive employees.” He begins his message by expressing displeasure with what he describes as a musician attempt to “drive a wedge between” the ASO and WAC boards.

The musicians’ press release erroneously seeks to drive a wedge between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) Board and the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) Governing Board. This is a mistake, both in fact and in strategy.

The statement continues by accusing the musicians of failing to accept cuts already put in place for administrative employees as well as Romanstein divvying out his own brand of divide and conquer.

ASOPA continues to state that we are asking them to shoulder the sole burden of lowering expenses and balancing the budget, ignoring the fact that, since 2006, average staff compensation has been reduced by 1.7%. During this same period, average musician compensation has risen 23.6%.

[…]

It is true that the musicians allowed their contract to expire on August 25, despite an offer on the negotiating table, so they are no longer being paid a salary. The musicians are now inactive employees, and therefore ineligible for benefits. It is unfortunate, but this is not news to ASOPA — whether this was fully shared with the players they represent is something we cannot confirm.

At the time this article was published, there was no word on the status of the ASO’s gala concert on October 4, 2012 featuring Midori, but you can read the complete statements from both the ASOPA and Stanley Romanstein below. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out late breaking details via a Google News search.

Read the complete musician press release.

Atlanta Symphony Musicians Offer $4 Million Over Next Two Years to Close Budget Gap; Woodruff Arts Center Executive Board Refuses, Locks Out Musicians and Cancels Healthcare Benefits

Atlanta, GA, September 4, 2012: On August 24, in an unprecedented effort to reach agreement on terms of a new collective bargaining agreement, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Committee (ASOPA) offered very deep cuts in the Orchestra to the Atlanta Symphony Management negotiating team and the ASO Board. The $4 million in concessions offered by the 88 current Musicians of the ASO would be combined with parallel income cuts for those on the approximately 75-member ASO administrative staff who are paid at least the minimum salary of ASO musicians.

ASO negotiators and staff, together with ASO board members, applauded with appreciation the musicians’ enormous offer of concessions, expressing privately that musicians have given enough – that the musicians should hold firm while an agreement was worked out with others. They also asked ASOPA to avoid talking with the press or even releasing full details of the talks to the Orchestra musicians, a request with which ASOPA agreed and has cooperated fully. Meanwhile, the WAC cancelled the musicians’ August 31 paychecks, as well as their health, dental, and disability insurance.

Despite behind-the-scenes efforts by ASO Board and community leaders in communication with the WAC Executive Board, many frustrated ASO board members and staff now stand beside ASO musicians in dismay at the WAC Executive Board’s refusal to allow any compromise.

As informal discussions continued into last week about how to close the dramatically reduced gap between the musicians’ and ASO’s proposals, an ASO ExecutiveBoard Committee member communicatedthe reaction of the Woodruff Arts Center Executive Boardto the progress in an e-mail message shared with musicians by ASO CEO Stanley Romanstein. “…[W]hile the gap has been substantially reduced, … the WAC Governing Board has made the final decision that the ‘best and final offer’… can be no less than the $2.6M in concessions presented in our last offer. As you know, the WAC signs the union agreement so they do have the last word in these matters. They are fully prepared for a work stoppage”.

The message goes on to say thatwhile the support of the ASO Executive Cmte would be preferred, the final decision lies with the WAC Governing Board. Due to representations made to investors and key donors as well as the rating agencies, we must achieve and balanced budget and we require that half of the $5M gap comes from the contract with the musicians.”Acknowledging an“alternative solution…crafted…by the ASO [that] was reviewed by [WAC Executive Board members and staff]…that option was rejected as the union concession was still less than the $2.6M that they are requiring.”

The e-mail added:With regard to negative PR, they feel that the ASO and the WAC are sufficiently prepared and ready to deal with this matter. They consider the risk of not achieving a balanced budget is far greater than any negative PR. This applies to considering the implication to fundraising, ticket sales and the negative impact to other divisions of the WAC. Therefore WAC Governing Board has decided that there is no need for an extension to further internally discuss options or PR implications, the senior team at the WAC Governing Board has reviewed the matter and has made a final decision.”

The communication ends with the assertion that“the team is making plans to deal with the impact of the work stoppage. Therefore we will redirect our energies in that direction, continue to update and execute on our PR plan and determine next steps on negotiations.”

The WAC’s assertion that there is a $5 million budget gap misstates the facts: According to the ASO’s own budget documents, the deficit for Fiscal Year 2012 was $2.7 million, and a $1.5 million deficit is budgeted for Fiscal Year 2013. The Musicians have offered $2 million in concessions for each of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 contract years. Additional administrative staff cuts that the parties have agreed to would further bridge the gap, as would aggressive initiatives to review all costs and expenditures of the ASO and its subsidiary entities, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre and SD&A Teleservices, to reduce waste and find other savings. Yet, somehow finding that half of the made-up $5 million gap equals $2.6 million, the WAC punitively insists that the musicians alone – the costs of whom comprise only 28% of the ASO budget — bear the entire budget burden.

Most arts executives and boards across the nation realize that for a non-profit to deeply cut and demean its primary product is not effective either for fundraising or fulfillment of its mission to the community. Community leaders and the musicians wonder when the ASO as an institution will be able to chart its own destiny, in light of the clear evidence that the WAC cares only about penalizing the musicians, regardless of how much damage is done to the award-winning legacies of ASO artistic leaders Robert Shaw, Yoel Levi, Robert Spano and Donald Runnicles.

The Musicians’ reality is that:

  1. As of August 26th, ASO musicians have been without any pay or benefits, also known as being locked out.
  2. On August 31, health, dental, and disability insurance policies for all musicians, several of whom are battling cancer and other debilitating health crises, have also been cancelled by the WAC as threatened. This is contrary to Stanley Romanstein’s denial of that fact reported in the August 26 edition of the AJC: “The musicians — who are full-time employees — had feared that if a deal was not made, they would be locked out without pay and health benefits. ASO president Stanley Romanstein has denied that, but in a letter to the musicians from executive vice president for business operations Donald Fox, he indicated that they had no authority to continue benefits beyond Aug. 25.”
  3. All musicians’ access cards to Symphony Hall and parking decks have been deactivated.
  4. Extra off-duty police have been hired at an undisclosed cost to patrol the WAC campus, creating the armed camp effect apparently sought by the WAC, despite no statements, threats or actions by ASO musicians that would necessitate such tactics and expense.
  5. All scheduled work for the Orchestra through September 24 has been canceled.
  6. The WAC Executive Board’s actions threaten the ASO and the WAC itself, especially coming at a time when the WAC admits that the ASO budget gap is so close to being bridged. Their insistence on $2.6 million in cuts to the musicians alone, regardless of any other factors, certainly implies a misplaced priority of budgeting over mission, and suggests that they do not have in mind the best interests of the Atlanta Symphony, the communities it serves, or Atlanta itself, whose world-wide reputation the ASO enhances.

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Read the complete response from Stanley Romanstein.

STATEMENT FROM STANLEY E. ROMANSTEIN, Ph.D.
PRESIDENT & CEO, ATLANTA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

The musicians’ press release erroneously seeks to drive a wedge between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) Board and the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) Governing Board. This is a mistake, both in fact and in strategy.

The ASO and WAC Boards do appreciate the strides the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association (ASOPA) has made from their original position, but the Boards have been united in saying that it is not enough.

Unfortunately the ASOPA representatives continue to oversimplify the complexity of the ASO’s annual budget and deficit to suit their argument. While it’s true the deficit for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 was $2.7M, it is important to note that is inclusive of $1.8M in non-sustainable sources (i.e. bequests and one-time gifts) without which the true operating deficit is $4.5M. This deficit is expected to trend even higher in FY2013. The fact is the ASO has been running an annual deficit of nearly $5M and the accumulated deficit is approaching $20M. We have had a member of ASOPA on our Board of Directors for 15 years, and we have had two Orchestra musicians on our finance committee for a decade, so this should not come as a surprise to the Orchestra.

ASOPA continues to state that we are asking them to shoulder the sole burden of lowering expenses and balancing the budget, ignoring the fact that, since 2006, average staff compensation has been reduced by 1.7%. During this same period, average musician compensation has risen 23.6%.

Since negotiations began in March, our position has been that total compensation must change, and we’ve offered choices about how that happens. The average compensation of the musicians is $131,000, which currently includes 100% free health and dental coverage, free instrument insurance, retirement pension, and eight (8) weeks of paid vacation.  We have asked our 68 staff members to forego raises, endure layoffs, accept weeks of mandatory furloughs, and to contribute to a healthcare plan which asks them to shoulder between 17 and 31 percent of their health insurance costs — and they have. To increase revenues we’ve asked our audiences to pay slightly higher ticket costs and, overwhelmingly, they’ve said yes.  We’ve asked donors to make even greater personal financial contributions, and they’ve responded generously.

It is true that the musicians allowed their contract to expire on August 25, despite an offer on the negotiating table, so they are no longer being paid a salary.  The musicians are now inactive employees, and therefore ineligible for benefits. It is unfortunate, but this is not news to ASOPA  — whether this was fully shared with the players they represent is something we cannot confirm.

Again we applaud the distance the ASOPA has come, but we cannot settle at this amount if we are to ensure the long-term health of the Orchestra. We have presented the Musicians’ Union with our last, best, and final offer — they have yet to respond.

2 Responses to Atlanta Musicians Locked Out

  1. Eric Hampton September 5, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    Here we go with more of the same from orchestra managers who have swallowed the LAO Kool-Aid: arrogant refusal to negotiate in any way (let alone good-faith), spinning the lockout as musician/union-caused, and taking no part in cost-cutting measures themselves. Good for you, Atlanta musicians, for rightfully asking your managers to share the pain collectively. Why should you have to take cuts and they don’t? Big Business is alive and well in the non-profit world.

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  1. Symphony No. 6…of Bankruptcy? | Consider Again - September 14, 2012

    […] of the disputes on the other side of the labor-management spectrum is occurring in Atlanta, where management has locked out Atlanta musicians, cutting off their salaries and benefits. […]

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