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Contract talks slow for ASO, musicians
by Staff Reports
September 04, 2012 06:01 PM | 2967 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
More than a week after the deadline for a new contract between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its musicians passed, negotiations continue but progress slowed.

On Aug. 25 the contract expired, and since Friday the musicians have been without pay, health, dental and disability insurance and their access cards to the Midtown-based Woodruff Arts Center and its parking deck have been deactivated, according to a news release posted to the musicians’ website Tuesday (visit http://www.atlsymphonymusicians.com/1/post/2012/09/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.html to read the full release).

In the release, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Committee said its 88 musicians offered $4 million in concessions on par with the cuts the orchestra’s administrative staff has made.

The release cites an email sent to musicians from orchestra President and CEO Stanley Romanstein, PhD, in which he talks about the negotiation process and the orchestra’s $5 budget shortfall.

According to the release, not everything Romanstein wrote in the email is accurate.

“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 release states. “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 percent of the ASO budget — bear the entire budget burden.”

In response to the release, Romanstein Tuesday issued a statement in which he said the musicians are trying to “drive a wedge” between the orchestra and the center’s governing board. Here is the full statement:

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 $2.7 [million], it is important to note that is inclusive of $1.8 [million] in non-sustainable sources (i.e. bequests and one-time gifts) without which the true operating deficit is $4.5 [million]. This deficit is expected to trend even higher in FY2013. The fact is the ASO has been running an annual deficit of nearly $5 [million] and the accumulated deficit is approaching $20 [million]. 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 percent. During this same period, average musician compensation has risen 23.6 percent.

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 percent free health and dental coverage, free instrument insurance, retirement pension and eight 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 health care 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 Aug. 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.

According to the orchestra’s website, it had a $6 million budget deficit for fiscal 2013, and has trimmed $1 million in operating costs. It has provided a Q&A on the contract negotiations and budget on its website.

Information: visit www.atlantasymphony.org.
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