Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Musicians “Locked-Out” in Contract Dispute with Management
Last year was a difficult year for orchestras. With the Philadelphia Orchestra filing for bankruptcy and many other small orchestras struggling to survive, many organizations were forced to restructure or completely change the way they operate. Despite the hardship, many looked forward towards a new year that would bring with it new tactics for building audiences and finding new, diverse ways for the orchestra to make money. That was until last week, when another one of America’s major orchestras made the news with high tension disputes between the musicians and the administrative staff. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is trying to renew a two-year contract with the musicians’ union, but the two sides have run into a road block: a fundamental disagreement about where cuts of $1.2 million should come from.
Recently, as the musicians’ contracts were about to expire, their union put forth a proposal in which the offered to take $2 million in cuts each year for the two years, totaling $4 million. The musicians accepted these concessions, however, under the condition that the management would agree to take equal cuts to the administrative salaries. The administrative parts, which includes executive members of the ASO and board members from the Woodruff Arts Center, believes they should not have to take cuts. They claim to have already taken cuts in recent years while the average musicians’ pay has 23.6% since 2006. With this information, the WAC and the ASO presented what they called their “ last, best, and final offer”: $2.6 million a year in cuts from the musicians, with no corresponding reductions in management salaries.
With two conflicting offers on the table and no resolution in sight, the WAC cancelled the musicians’ paychecks and health, dental, and disability insurance policies and barred them from entering Symphony Hall and the parking decks. The ASO management and the WAC both agree that the organization needs to make deep cuts in order to stay afloat. The ASO faces a $20 million deficit by the end of next year. Last season, the orchestra brought in $40 million but spent $45 million; the deficit is expected to trend higher in 2013. With the beginning of the season less than a month away, tensions are high. Both sides have entered in informal talks, and, for now, all we can do is wait and see.
A recent NPR article took a different approach to the ASO’s situation. Rather than a tone of doom and despair, they looked at why the ASO matters. In the link are five different recordings that stand out among the ASO’s discography, and a thoughtful discussion of the importance of the ASO to American musical culture. So while the contract disputes are worrisome, let’s take a moment to reflect on what’s great about the ASO and why we need it. What are your favorite Atlanta Symphony recordings? How has the ASO affected you in your daily or musical life? Comment below!