San Francisco Symphony and musicians sign contract, but harmony has yet to return

The San Francisco Symphony and Musicians Union Local 6 announced Saturday that they have ratified a 26-month contract following a costly strike that ended March 31.

The settlement follows seven months of negotiations, with acrimony spilling out into the public arena lately and culminating in an 18-day strike. It forced the cancellation of an East Coast tour with stops at New York’s Carnegie Hall and Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center.

As throughout the conflict, management showed restraint — at least in public — in the announcement, while the musicians’ representatives continued to express strong dissatisfaction.

Even at this point, violist David Gaudry, who has represented musicians, said some members of the management bargaining team “were inexperienced and at times incompetent. They wasted hundreds of hours of our time.”

A member of Gaudry’s committee, flutist Catherine Payne, said the musicians “became concerned over the course of this negotiation that management had lost sight of its mission of artistic excellence. The musicians bring the music to life for our community, but our agreement does not allow us to keep up with the Bay Area’s high cost of living.”

Gaudry said it was the strike that enabled the union “to achieve a settlement that did not move us too far backwards in terms of wages and benefits.”

Sakurako Fisher, president of the symphony board of governors put a positive spin on the agreement, saying it “represents a significant amount of collaboration and a recognition that only a shared vision and a true partnership will propel our outstanding 100-year-old orchestra toward an even greater future.”

At a time when American orchestras are struggling to survive, the San Francisco Symphony operates with an annual budget of approximately $70 million and has an endowment near the $300 million mark.

Details of the new contract for the San Francisco Symphony:

  • 4.5 percent increase in musicians’ minimum annual base salary, from the current $141,700 to $148,200; management originally offered a 2 percent raise, while the union asked for 15 percent
  • Continuation of the provision for 10 weeks of paid vacation and paid sick leave
  • Increase of the orchestra from 103 to 106 musicians on contract
  • Equivalent pay for substitutes and extras
  • Continuation of employer-provided health insurance, with some modifications from previous policies
  • In the matter of contested but unspecified work rules, the musicians say they agreed to “minimal changes in working conditions that would have had musicians working harder for less money”
  • The maximum $74,000 annual pension upon retirement will continue; the musicians said they “beat back proposals to change retirement age from 62 to 65”
  • Unspecified promise from management to share financial information more readily with union
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