Atlanta to musicians: No pay from today, no health care in 30 days

Atlanta to musicians: No pay from today, no health care in 30 days


norman lebrecht

September 07, 2014

The statement by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on the ‘breakdown of negotiations’ with musicians carefully avoided any mention of a lock-out. The L-word has acquired very bad karma since it rebounded on Minnesota.

But the intent is made clear in the small print of the ASO’s website, where the odious situation is clarified for the benefit of bewildered donors and supporters.

Here are the hard truths, in the ASO’s own words:

The contract between the ASO and the Musicians’ Union has ended, and although the musicians remain employees of the ASO, they will not receive a salary until a new contract is ratified. Health care benefits will continue through the end of September.

And then?

If, at that point, a new contract hasn’t been ratified, employees will be offered health care coverage through COBRA.

What’s that, some kind of snake?

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to choose to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time…

And the catch is?

Qualified individuals may be required to pay the entire premium for coverage up to 102 percent of the cost to the plan.

In other words, the ASO will remove health care from musicians and their families if they have not agreed to wage and job cuts by the end of the month. Brutal?  Indeed, and couched in the sweetest and most convoluted euphemisms, for which the ASO is paying a PR a small fortune. This is ‘Dr’ Romanstein’s patent medicine.





  • Beverly Hueter says:

    I’d just like to point out that the accompanying photo is of three ASO choristers. We are all volunteers, but we support our orchestra musicians unequivocably. After all, if they’re locked out, we’re all locked out. The t-shirts were a product of the 2012 struggles, and display a sentiment of hope that our music-making together can truly continue in perpetuity.

    • Nick says:

      An excellent article putting the legal perspective. As I stated in the most recent ASO thread, ‘new model” – or as Kevin Case puts it, “Contemporary Operating Model” – is the new buzz phrase we are hearing and likely to continue hearing in years to come. He also points out that in the case of the ASO negotiations, it is not base pay that is the key issue. More crucial would be management’s ability unilaterally to alter health benefits “at any time” and a proposal to retain, again unilaterally, “the ultimate authority to determine complement.” So the ASO could, if the management so dictated, become a chamber orchestra over time.

      Little wonder Spano and Runnicles weighed in earlier last week. Perhaps it’s a pity their comments about their employers were not stronger.