Musicians reject proposal and management responds

Update

:

Management issued a statement on the musicians’ unanimous rejection of the latest contract proposal late yesterday.  The press release hits the points management has been making in recent days, and specifically, the need for a long-term plan that ensures the financial viability of the orchestra.  Management also says they will go back to the bargaining table.

The board and management of Seattle Symphony are very disappointed that the Seattle Symphony and Opera Players’ Organization has rejected the offer that we have given them during our negotiations. Over the past eight months we have been very specific about the financial position that the Symphony is in, and how important the musicians are to us. We have made it very clear that there is a need for a long-term plan and solution to the financial situation we are encountering and we’re reluctantly asking the musicians to make concessions to help us create a stable and solid future for the Symphony. We intend to go back to the bargaining table as quickly as the union will meet with us, and seek to find a speedy resolution to this situation so that we can get back to the business of presenting artistically exciting performances for our community. We anticipate all performances to go forward as planned.

Seattle Symphony musicians unanimously (as in no one voted for it) rejected management’s last, best offer.  The players cite four reasons for the rejection — salary concessions ($11 million is too much), length of the contract (5 years is too long), unfilled positions (too many temp players in key spots), and experimental revenue sharing (unproven).  The text of the full press release is after the jump.

Musicians unanimously reject contract offer from Seattle Symphony

In a vote this afternoon, the members of the Seattle Symphony & Opera Players’ Organization unanimously rejected a contract proposal from management of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO).

The last extension of the musicians’ contract (collective bargaining agreement) with the SSO expired at midnight Dec. 31, and the musicians have already passed a strike authorization, if warranted. No work stoppage is anticipated at this time.

“The musicians are committed to building a successful present and future for the SSO,” explained Tim Hale, violist and chair of the musicians’ union. “America’s successful orchestras demonstrate that visionary leadership and best practices produce organizations that thrive, both artistically and financially. Seattle can be one of those orchestras. We wish to work with the extended SSO family to seek solutions, solve problems and secure our place on that path.”

The musicians had proposed a two-year contract arrangement, with salaries decreasing for the remainder of this season, then increasing slightly next season. They also proposed ways for the SSO to launch new artistic and performance initiatives to produce new revenue. This follows a contract extension over the last four years, in which the musicians voluntarily reduced their salaries and benefits by $3.2 million, to ensure the financial recovery of the organization.

According to Hale, the musicians’ top reasons for rejecting the SSO management contract are:

· Length of contract – The five-year contract proposed by management would make the organization inflexible and unresponsive to the needs and wishes of incoming leadership. This will jeopardize the search for a new Executive Director and Music Director. It also bases wages in 2014 on last year’s economy. We need a short-term agreement to allow the economy to recover and stabilize, and for new Symphony leadership to be in place.

· Salary concessions – Management seeks concessions in salaries and benefits amounting to more than $11 million over five years, adjusted for cost of living. It would take until 2014 before we would begin earning the pay level that was promised for 2005. The SSO musicians already earn 38 percent less than the average of their colleagues in peer orchestras, adjusted for cost of living. Even ignoring the high cost of living in Seattle, the musicians are still paid 22 percent less than the average of their peers. The SSO is the only major symphony orchestra in the U.S. which collects more performance revenue than it pays its musicians.

· Unfilled positions – This would hold an unlimited number of positions in the orchestra open for the duration of the agreement. The orchestra currently has eight vacant positions, and by the end of a five-year period, that number could jump to more than 20. Nearly 25% of the orchestra, including key principal positions, could be made up of low-cost substitutes, rather than highly qualified, full-time artists.

· Experimental compensation scheme – A “revenue sharing” provision was seen by the musicians as “window dressing,” with no reason to believe it would succeed in a not-for-profit environment. It would make the musicians’ compensation contingent upon the performance of yet-to-be-hired SSO management.

The Seattle Opera portion of the musicians’ work, which amounts to about 15 percent of their time and compensation, is already covered by an extension agreement with the opera, providing for flat compensation through this year.

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