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October 1, 2014IM -
Musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra locked out for the second time in two years and the beginning of their 70th anniversary season has been canceled. The previous contract expired September 6. ASO President and CEO Stanley Romanstein refused musicians’ requests to meet in the days leading up to the deadline.The musicians were forced to submit their latest proposal electronically and continue to express their wish to move forward with the season under a play and talk arrangement. ASO management did not respond and refused to budge from its “best and final” offer.
Management’s offer calls for a pay freeze in the 2014-2015 season, and although small pay increases would be provided over the following three years, the outlined increases to health care costs would result in lower net pay. Management would also have the power to change any aspect of the musicians’ health care plan at any time. In their proposal, musicians are suggesting slightly larger pay increases each year, but have offered a health care solution that would save the organization money, without inflating individual costs.
Perhaps the greatest concern is language in management’s offer that would give Romanstein unilateral power to decide the number of musicians in the orchestra. He could, for example, choose not to fill positions that become vacant. This is unprecedented among orchestras working under collective bargaining agreements, and musicians are adamant that this proposed condition is unacceptable. They do not feel comfortable giving Romanstein control over something that could have such a substantial impact on the quality of the artistic product. Such unilateral power seems to defeat the purpose of a CBA.
ASO Music Director Robert Spano and Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles, both members of Local 146-462 (Atlanta, GE), authored an open letter expressing similar concerns. “There are artistic lines that cannot and must not be crossed,” they wrote. “We must rededicate ourselves to the ASO’s founding principles of excellence and to the support of a full, robust, and world-class symphony orchestra.”
This dispute comes two years after musicians were locked out fall 2012. At that time, they agreed to painful concessions—including an average of $14,000 in annual pay cuts per player, a reduction in orchestra size, and a reduction in season length from 52 to 42 weeks. They accepted that concessionary contract with the understanding that it was a one-time sacrifice that would allow management to steer the organization to more stable financial footing. That promise has not been met, with the organization still showing substantial deficits. Yet, Romanstein has continued to draw large bonuses, including $45,000 in 2012, the same year the musicians had their wages cut.
With the 2014-2015 season canceled through November 8, some ASO musicians have already begun to accept work with other orchestras. Musicians across the country have shown an outpouring of support, issuing statements of solidarity and collecting donations on behalf of their ASO colleagues.