San Francisco Symphony musicians hope concert will sway city leaders

March 13, 2013 10:45:40 AM PDT
San Francisco Symphony musicians have unanimously voted to authorize a strike if talks Tuesday don't make progress.

An East Coast Tour is supposed to start next week and just last month the symphony won its 15th Grammy award, but musicians and management are at odds over what it takes to continue as a top-tier organization.

A string quartet from the San Francisco Symphony performed Beethoven at City Hall Tuesday, but their hats hinted at the discord behind the scenes. The orchestra's musicians say other cities have better contracts than what they're being offered.

"It doesn't acknowledge the fact there's been inflation in the California economy," musicians' negotiating committee spokesperson David Gaudry said. "It doesn't acknowledge the fact that our wages are about $7,500 less than our leading peers -- the Chicago Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic."

Symphony management says the average musician's salary is $165,000 a year. The union says the basic pay is about $142,000. Management says they provide health care with no monthly contribution. The musicians say they pay for family members. The symphony says the musicians get 10 weeks of paid vacation, they say they have other expenses including buying their instruments that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The symphony says its wage proposal would keep the 105 member orchestra among the top three nationwide.

"They are among the most talented musicians in the world; we hope we can reach an agreement that recognizes that and at the same time moves our organization forward in a stable way," symphony spokesperson Oliver Theil said.

At the lunchtime press concert, the musicians told reporters that while the symphony has an endowment nearing $300 million and has given hefty bonuses to management, they are being offered a 3-year contract with no increase in the first year, followed by a 1 percent hike each of the next two.

"We're in a very wealthy institution and our treatment should absolutely reflect that," musician Katie Kadarauch said.

The symphony maintains its operating expenses are outpacing its operating income.

"As a non-profit all of our finances are a matter of public record and we have been fully transparent with those finances," Theil said.

The symphony receives $2.6 million in public funding every year, some from San Francisco's hotel tax, so the musicians visited the supervisors offices Tuesday, trying to get them on their side as a federal mediator works to help resolve the dispute.


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