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San Francisco Symphony musicians go out on strike

March 13, 2013 |  4:28 pm



symphony_protestLugging picket signs and instrument cases in front of the concert hall where they perform, musicians from San Francisco's acclaimed symphony orchestra went on strike Wednesday, causing the cancellation of at least one performance and throwing an East Coast tour into question.

"Our membership has instructed us with great unanimity and authority that they do not wish to go on tour without a contract," violist David Gaudry said during a news conference at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. "We never have, and it's their wish that we continue not to do that."

Members of Local 6 of the American Federation of Musicians are scheduled to sit down Thursday with San Francisco Symphony administrators to resume negotiations over a three-year contract.

The 103-member orchestra is supposed to leave Tuesday for two concerts at New York's Carnegie Hall, one in Newark, N.J.,  and one at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

"It is our heartfelt hope that the tour happens, and we are going to work diligently in order to try and make that so," Brent Assink, symphony executive director, said Wednesday immediately following the musicians' announcement.

"We have indicated to them in writing as recently as yesterday that we were preparing a new proposal that we would have ready for them tomorrow," Assink said. "And they knew that and unfortunately decided to take this action instead."

Musicians' current base pay is $141,700 each year, and they receive 10 weeks of paid vacation. Symphony administration has proposed a three-year contract with no pay raise during the first year and increases of 1% in each of the following years. Base pay would rise to $144,560.

"That kind of an offer is going to put us in a position where we will not be able to hold on to our most talented players,  and we certainly won't be able to recruit the most talented available players in the pool that are out there in the United States," Gaudry said.

Symphony management describes the proposal as one that keeps San Francisco among the top-three best paid orchestras in the country, along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

"In several orchestras, including Los Angeles, wages are about 5% higher," Gaudry said. "That's also true of the Chicago symphony. We're focused on the Chicago symphony because we just lost one of our top performers ... to the Chicago symphony."

The San Francisco Symphony recently held a multimillion-dollar centennial celebration and is planning construction at the Civic Center symphony hall, Gaudry said, which means that there is money available to pay musicians better wages.

But Assink argued that every year for the last four, the symphony has incurred an operating deficit because "operating expenses have outpaced operating income."

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-- Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco

Photo: Protesting musicians in San Francisco. Credit: Maria L. La Ganga / Los Angeles Times

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