Update (Saturday, March 16): The San Francisco Symphony strike continues and tonight’s program–Mahler’s Ninth Symphony–has been canceled.

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:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / March 16, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY CONCERT SCHEDULED FOR SATURDAY, MARCH 16 IS CANCELLED DUE TO LABOR STOPPAGE

SAN FRANCISCO, March 16, 2013 – Due to the labor stoppage at the San Francisco Symphony, the concert scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 16 has been cancelled and will not be rescheduled. No further concert cancellations have been announced at this time.

Patrons with tickets to the March 16 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. to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, noon to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday) and on the Orchestra’s website at www.sfsymphony.org.

An update for the Sunday, March 17 2:00 p.m. concert will be issued by Saturday night. Ticket holders 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.

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.

  • Robert Michael

    Base Pay Is 140 grand! These assholes should be happy they have a gig and are not teaching Jr. High school band for 40,000 a year. Get a life you high class classical soulless stiffs and learn to play some real music like Jazz. Oh wait the money is not in Jazz and you play for money money money now don’t you.

  • Matt McGuire

    A Modest Proposal to Save World Class Orchestras

    I’ve noticed that two separate anti- union writers have independently
    come to the same conclusion: high school music students could easily
    play as well as the current members of the San Francisco Symphony. One
    of these writers obviously knows what he’s talking about. After all, he
    played bassoon when he was a teenager.

    So why are these orchestras using
    the expensive and unnecessary method of holding auditions in which
    hundreds of the best musicians in the world compete for a single
    position? Why aren’t high school students doing these jobs? In high
    school I would have jumped at the chance to do this incredibly easy job
    with low hours for about $70 grand a year, even if I didn’t have to join
    a union or get health insurance! I bet these orchestras could even pay
    lower salaries, solving much of their financial difficulties.

    I
    really don’t know why orchestras aren’t full of talented high school as
    it is. Maybe they just don’t know about these jobs. So, orchestra
    should start informing high school music teachers when jobs open up!
    Think of the benefits!

    Problem solved. Thank me later.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) 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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