Please Stop Striking

I am so very sad that the musicians and management of the San Francisco Symphony have not been able to settle their differences, as of today, March 18, and come to an agreement. Now cancelled is their prestigious East Coast tour, including performances at Carnegie Hall and Washington DC’s Kennedy Center. This is a disaster, not just financially, but for the symphony’s reputation.

How much does this really mean to me, personally? I chide myself over this urge to obsess about it, to grieve. But by cancelling a tour across the country, it is no longer a local issue, a personal concern. The world is watching the SFS exposing this ugly, contentious side, destroying the illusion of a cohesive organization. I’m not just sad, I’m ashamed. I’ve nattered on here at my blog about the wonderful SFS, my sanctuary from the real world, that has never disappointed me. Does this make a sucker out of me, that I’m so enthusiastically supporting such an institution?

Most of my classical music friends are musicians, and surely support the striking musicians. Will I be endangering their good will if I step out on a limb here and say enough already, that the musicians need to stop being so obstinate? This is not the Minnesota Orchestra here, or the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, with their ugly, unfair labor disputes and unsteady finances. The San Francisco Symphony has one of the strongest, healthiest endowments in the classical music world. Its musicians are among the top three best paid in the country. Their argument: they want their pay to keep pace with the other top two orchestras in the country, Chicago and Los Angeles. Management is proposing a pay freeze this year, and a paltry increase next year. The musicians and their union are not biting. Nor is management capitulating.

I’m certainly not qualified to argue cogently for either side in this labor dispute. I can only read articles, listen to others’ opinions. I’m trying to continue to see it from both sides. But it’s getting harder to feel sympathy for either side with each passing day.

In the end, as I said, what I feel is tremendous sorrow. Classical music is the beautiful, untouchable thing in my life. The dispute is ugly and damaging, and both sides are getting damaged, and it’s the paying audience members who are being hurt, not to mention the San Francisco Symphony’s fine reputation. Not just here on the West Coast, now, but the East Coast. Further damage, locally, is the fact that the SFS’s subscription season renewal is in full swing. I don’t know about the other subscribers, but I’m not sure I want to go flinging money at them right now, not when the two sides are squabbling like overtired siblings.

Please solve your dispute, San Francisco Symphony and musicians. All of you are losing so, so much, with each passing day.

3 thoughts on “Please Stop Striking”

  1. We’ve been having a great conversation about this over at where I posted this blog as well. Thought I’d share some of those thoughts here, as well.

    The New York Times had a great article about the strike, and I like how it offered a slightly different perspective (further from the trenches here in the SF Bay Area) and also provided some good-to-know facts about the points the two sides are disputing. A few points: I was wrong about thinking the base was $145K. It’s $141. And here are a few excerpts from the article that pertain to some of the issues brought up on this thread.

    “The orchestra, which showed an $800,000 deficit on a $79.2 million budget for its 2011-12 fiscal year (a lower deficit than in the years immediately preceding), initially asked the players to accept a wage freeze for the first year of a new contract, with a 1 percent raise in each of the next two years. The latest proposal, turned down by the players, was for a 26-month agreement, with a salary increase of 1 percent during the first year and 2 percent during the second, for a new base salary of $145,979 by the end of the agreement.”

    So. The management side is no longer insisting on a wage freeze.

    Here’s more:

    “On their Web site the players point to more than $10 million spent on the orchestra’s centennial celebration last year, though Mr. Assink disputes the figure and says that the cost was mostly underwritten by dedicated contributions. The musicians also point to plans for an expansion of the orchestra’s home, the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, at a cost of half a billion dollars, though Mr. Assink says a project of that magnitude is still a dream, one arrived at by the board and management with the participation of players and likely to be scaled down considerably.

    “In a separate statement on the players’ site, David Gaudry, a violist and the chairman of the musicians’ negotiating committee, cites ‘enormous bonuses and compensation to top executives and consultants.’ Mr. Assink’s salary is currently frozen at $477,000 annually, which places him at the low end of his profession among top orchestras. He was awarded a one-time bonus of about half that amount for his long service. (He became the orchestra’s general manager in 1990, its executive director in 1999.)”

    So. Again, it’s tough to decide if one side is being the villain here, or being too obstinate. But it was good to read the article. You can find it in its entirety here:

  2. And here’s the link to the whole discussion, as well, where editor Laurie Niles also linked a second article that offers a different angle on the labor dispute than I do. Always nice to catch a variety of opinions. And the folks at can always be counted on to be wonderfully eloquent.


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