San Francisco Symphony musicians’ strike threatens upcoming tour 

click to enlarge Symphony tuba player Jeff Anderson stands with his instrument during a news conference Wednesday. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Symphony tuba player Jeff Anderson stands with his instrument during a news conference Wednesday.

At least one concert by the San Francisco Symphony has been canceled this week after contract negotiations reached a standstill and musicians went on strike Wednesday.

If an agreement is not reached soon, three other concerts at Davies Symphony Hall could be canceled along with an East Coast tour that includes two performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

“Our membership instructed us, with unanimity and authority, they do not wish to go on tour without a contract,” said David Gaudry, a violist and member of the musicians’ negotiating team.

The negotiations, which have been ongoing since July, halted when both sides couldn’t see eye to eye in the presence of a federal mediator.

The 105 musicians, who are represented by the American Federation of Musicians Local 6, said they want base annual pay comparable to their Los Angeles and Chicago counterparts. Currently, San Francisco musicians make a base pay of $141,700 while those at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra bring in $144,040 and players with the Los Angeles Philharmonic net $143,260.

Gaudry said management wants “zero net increases” in the next contract, which means wages would be frozen.

“Obviously that’s going to be a problem for us,” Gaudry said. He also said that on Tuesday, “Management came to us and said they are sorry, they still don’t have a proposal for us, and they actually withdrew the proposal they made previously because they had a communication problem with the new health care provider.”

As a result, the musicians went on strike.

Brent Assink, executive director of the symphony, said the country’s economic crisis must be taken into account.

“You can’t ignore the fact that over the last number of years our country went through one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression,” Assink said. “That puts an enormous amount of pressure on many organizations. One result of that has been pressure on people’s discretionary income and ability to pay ticket prices.”

Management’s proposal includes no wage increase for the first year of the three-year contract, and
1 percent increases for both the second and third years. It would offer the same minimum base salary of $141,700. On top of that comes TV, radio and recording fees; overtime; and travel extras. The average musician makes $165,000 annually.

Assink said the proposed contract also would continue to offer current benefits such as 10 weeks of paid vacation, a maximum pension of $74,000 annually upon retirement and full health care coverage.

Assink said management plans to have a new contract ready for a meeting today and both sides said they hope to prevent any further show cancellations.

“We are disappointed the musicians have chosen to strike rather than continue negotiations,” he said. “We will continue to work hard to reach a fair agreement.”

The last time the symphony held a strike was in late 1996, and it lasted nine weeks.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

Janos Gereben, special to The San Francisco Examiner, contributed to this report.

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