ASO Musicians: We've Been Locked Out
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians say they've offered $4 million over next two years to close the budget gap, but that the Woodruff Arts Center Executive Board has refused to allow any compromise.
Editor's note: The following is a statement released Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012 by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Committee that contends they are being locked out by Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Management. It is the latest development in the tense negotiations to produce a new collective bargaining agreement that would replace the recently expired one. ASO Management has said it is losing approximately $5 million a year and is staring at a $20 million deficit.
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 Executive Board Committee member communicated the reaction of the Woodruff Arts Center Executive Board to 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 that “while 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.