Latest: Atlanta Symphony locks out its musicians

Four hours before their contract expired, musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra sent the following email to its president, Stanley Romanstein:
While we are disappointed not yet to have received the information we requested in our recent email, we nonetheless feel the urgency of the clock upon us and wish to invite you to meet with us at your earliest convenience. We are congregating right now at the Local office, 551 Dutch Valley Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30324. We will await your arrival in order that we can present a new proposal in person. Please let us know when we might expect you and your team.

Paul (on behalf of the ASOPA Committee)

Paul Murphy
President, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association

There was no reply.

Soon after midnight, Romanstein’s office issued this slick, apparently long-prepared statement:

ATLANTA — Despite months of Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) discussions, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association and Orchestra management have not reached an agreement on a new contract. As a result, the contract with the musicians’ union has expired, effective 12:00 midnight on Saturday, September 6, 2014. This development may delay or cancel portions of the scheduled 2014-15 season, which is set to open on Thursday, September 25, 2014

Progress has been very slow, despite eight months of negotiations and ongoing transparency regarding the organization’s finances.

“We are all extremely disappointed that we do not have a new contract,” said Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) President Stanley E. Romanstein, Ph.D. “While we value the art and the artists of the ASO enormously, we believe we must develop a new model that will allow us to balance our artistic and financial needs.  Clearly, that is not the model we have today.”

The ASO has had 12 consecutive years of deficit operations.  In the recently completed 2013 – 2014 fiscal year, it had a $2 million deficit, even with a significant contribution from ASO Presents, the concert promotional arm of the ASO.  Accumulated debt is approximately $5 million.  The ASO endowment has declined to about $70 million today as the Orchestra has taken additional distributions of $18 million to cover its accumulated deficits.

sromanstein

The musicians gave their unspun view (full statement at the foot of this post):

As of midnight September 7th, 2014, ASO President and CEO Stanley Romanstein had refused all requests to meet with the Musicians during the final hours before the 2012-2014 CBA expired, forcing them to submit their most recent proposal electronically. The Musicians emphasized in their proposal that they wish to avoid a labor dispute and propose to continue negotiating while working under the concessionary 2012-14 contract. The musicians have received no response; it appears that the Woodruff Arts Center has locked out the Musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for the second time in as many years.

In over eight months of negotiations, the Woodruff Arts Center and ASO Managements have displayed no willingness to find a workable agreement. They have refused to meet in person during the final days before our existing contract expired, and obstinately cling to the concessionary terms of their “last, best, and final offer,” under which the musicians would continue to hemorrhage income and lose orchestra positions.

The ASO’s spinners have avoided the inflammatory term ‘lockout’, but that is what appears to have kicked in at midnight. The musicians are out of work until and unless they knuckle down to lower pay and health care, and far fewer jobs. The ASO wants to cut its complement of musicians by up to one-third, relegating itself to a lower-league orchestra. ‘Doctor’ Romanstein – never trust a bureaucrat who signs himself ‘PhD’ – locked the musicians out two years ago and regards the last settlement as unfinished business.

Atlanta, like Minnesota, has gone into the deep, dark night of lockout through no fault of its musicians.

 

UPDATE: The grim terms of the lockout here.

atlanta

Musicians statement in full:

Atlanta, GA September 7, 2014 12:01AM

As of midnight September 7th, 2014, ASO President and CEO Stanley Romanstein had refused all requests to meet with the Musicians during the final hours before the 2012-2014 CBA expired, forcing them to submit their most recent proposal electronically. The Musicians emphasized in their proposal that they wish to avoid a labor dispute and propose to continue negotiating while working under the concessionary 2012-14 contract. The musicians have received no response; it appears that the Woodruff Arts Center has locked out the Musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for the second time in as many years.

In over eight months of negotiations, the Woodruff Arts Center and ASO Managements have displayed no willingness to find a workable agreement. They have refused to meet in person during the final days before our existing contract expired, and obstinately cling to the concessionary terms of their “last, best, and final offer,” under which the musicians would continue to hemorrhage income and lose orchestra positions.

Stanley Romanstein publicly accused the Musicians of not being willing to explore alternative health care solutions. Not only is that claim false – but the Musicians have offered the WAC healthcare solutions that would yield a greater savings without cutting into musician compensation any further.

According to the last, best, and final offer presented by the Woodruff Arts Center, the WAC has $3.75 million dollars available to further reduce the size of the orchestra by one third through a voluntary retirement incentive, and yet they will not apply such funding towards an agreement that we can sign. $3.75 million dollars exceeds the amount necessary to fund the musicians proposed increases. This is a WAC attempt to forever deprive the orchestra of its ability to function in the first league of orchestras.

The WAC has not demonstrated through their actions an understanding in the last two years of what is required to sustain a great American Orchestra – either artistically or financially. Because of this, the musicians can not afford to give up control to the WAC in determining the size of the orchestra. The cost of the compensation package of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Musicians was $12.2 million dollars in 2012. The cost of the compensation package as outlined in the Musicians’ proposal of September 6th will be $11.68 million dollars in 2018, the fourth year of the proposed agreement. Under the Musicians’ proposal, the orchestra’s costs will be less in 2018 than they were six years prior in 2012.

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  • “New model” is clearly the new buzz phrase for managements and Boards, having been extensively used in the Met negotiations – even though not much, if any, of the proposed “new” model seemed to have been reached!

    As has been discussed before, isn’t one of the ASO’s major problems that it is shackled to the Woodruff Arts Center of which it is effectively an offshoot? It seems a weird set-up and I wonder if there is in fact any similar way of operating a major symphony orchestra in the US?

    Given the lock-out two years ago and the understanding that the resultant agreement would ensure the future of the ASO, something seems rotten in the way the orchestra is managed. In 2012, I understand the musicians finally accepted all the $5.2 million in cuts requested by the management including a reduction in numbers from 95 to 88 and a reduction in annual salary from 52 weeks to 42. That, according to the management, would finally balance the budget. It didn’t. So it is surely pretty clear whose heads should now be on the chopping block!

    • Just a guess, but “new model” sounds like code for “fewer and cheaper” workers. We all know they would replace us with robots if they could. Too bad for us those robots are increasing in skill every year. In terms of a realistic “new model,” perhaps the Colorado Symphony is leading the charge in this regard.

  • The present situation is a direct result of the failed leadership of Allison Vulgamore. The new breed of technocratic artistic administrator drones intent on using the specter of The Death Of The Orchestra as a means to leverage concessions have done more to damage the state of the arts in this country than any variety of economic downturn.

  • What Reinhold Martin said. What Norman said. What Nick said. For those not familiar with the arrangement, the Woodruff Arts Center encompasses the High Museum of Art, the Alliance Theatre, a major arts education center, as well as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, each the leading regional institution in its field and each a major U.S. institution. Robert W. Woodruff was the man who made Coca-Cola Coca-Cola. That the WAC trustees regard a symphony orchestra as some sort of drag on the rest of their institution and community . . .

  • The Cobb Energy Center is a world class facility with top acoustics, an Atlanta address, it is ITP and has very convenient and free parking. Would be nice for a group to be formed to look into creating an Atlanta Orchestra free of the decrepit WAC and management.

    • By law, the orchestra being a non-profit organization, the management MUST open its books. The same thing happened during the Met Opera negotiations, when management would not open their books until they finally had to at the midnight hour because of the law. I see two problems in the crises we’ve seen with US orchestras: 1) the idea that if it loses money, it shouldn’t exist (my dear friends on the various boards of directors, please note that they are non-profit organizations, and the reason you were asked to join the board was to use your connections and, perhaps also your own donations, to raise enough not only to cover the shortfall, but to have a good cushion to get the organization through hard economic times). 2) (not unrelated to point #1) too many of those who have been invited to join these boards are those from the corporate world who never have had any connection to and love for the Arts and view being on such boards as a status symbol. To them, the bottom line is what’s important, and they have no idea what it takes to keep such an artistic entity on top of its artistic game. To them, not understanding the value of musicianship and experience, musicians are easily replaceable. They also don’t understand that if you cut the personnel of a symphony orchestra by 30%, you no longer have a symphony orchestra. They also seem to think that musicians are like hired help and see no reason to pay them a living wage. although there are many wealthy people in the US who could easily write a large cheque, the amount of which they would not even feel, it’s much more important to them, with their business world mentality, to try to get their “product” for as little as possible. Union-busting is their game. Any union, presented with a true financial crisis within the organization for which they work, would be willing to work with management to find a solution. Management needs to be open about its finances and must share that information with the unions. What has been happening in the last few years with so many of the orchestras is that management sets the terms and then refuses to negotiate in good faith (illegal, incidentally). We need more genuine lovers of the Arts on these boards, not ruthless dilettantes who care nothing for said Arts nor for the well-being and happiness of the members of the orchestras.

  • “Lockout” is not an inflammatory term. It is the precise legal term which describes a work stoppage due to management’s refusal to allow work to proceed. It is the opposite of “strike,” which describes a work stoppage due to workers’ refusal to come to work.

    Also, since the words “locked out” appear in the first paragraph of the musicians’ statement, I fail to see how it’s accurate to say that its use has been avoided.

  • This situation is not unlike one we faced in Tucson in 2008. Management declares that the negotiation has reached an impasse and implements the final offer. They are allowed to do so even if the admin has made zero move to share the pain. This is a very difficult situation. The musicians need to choose their options carefully and unite behind their choice!

    • And very much like the one in Minneapolis in 2012. Two years later – the former CEO has literally left the country and the past two Board Chairs are nowhere to be seen. The Music Director is back, as are most of the musicians, and the current season is more impressive than it has been in years (thanks to the musicians). It can be done, but now is the time to start.

  • Except for one problem: the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is not itself a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, rather only a DBA of the Woodruff Arts Center, which is the 501(c)(3) non-profit institution. Opening the complete books of the WAC, in detail rather than broad general numbers, would indeed be the more interesting and surely revealing action.

  • “12 consecutive years of deficit operations”
    I really feel bad for these great musicians, but this is a problem. Even with all the huge donations, why are so many orchestras in the US having financial problems? The musicians in any professional full time orchestra are top notch. You know how hard it is to win an audition?! Also, the music is the best there is.

    Is it a problem with education? Marketing? Why aren’t these concert halls packed?!

  • I think something else they want to do, is reduce the orchestra size, but hire subs for performance dates. I suspect this is cheaper, since there are no benefits involved. As a professional musician, it is disgusting how little people value what we do. People constantly expect us to work for free. How are we supposed to eat??

  • In reference to Matt’s question: ‘Why aren’t these concert halls packed?’ I’d say music education and the lack of it in most sectors of our country is certainly true, but I’d also like to suggest that many of these orchestras have a lack of vision that may get a lot of younger people in the doors. Atlanta barely plays any ‘new’ music, and having obtained my masters in music in the ATL area I can vouch for many of my peers being extremely frustrated because of this. We say the city of Atlanta doesn’t care for the arts because it doesn’t provide funding for anything but mediocre sports teams. This claim is indeed true, but I don’t remember the ASO reaching out to any of the universities in the area, many of which have excellent composers with a tremendous amount of talent. In my opinion, to build a solid musical community, it must go both ways. In other words, I’m not sure what the ASO’s future vision entails. Of course lets not forget the incompetent management who have taken the ‘big business’ model.

    • You bring up a good point, Matt, but one has to remember that it’s not the members of the orchestra which sets policy regarding repertoire and outreach programs. That’s management’s job, perhaps in coordination with the music director.

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