In a letter from the Jacksonville Symphony Association (JSA) to the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra (JSO) musicians, the JSA will cancel musician health care coverage after December 31, 2007 unless an agreement between the two parties is reached beforehand…
The JSO musicians have been locked out since November 12 and although both sides met over last weekend for mediated negotiating sessions, those sessions did not produce an agreement. Immediately following those negotiation sessions, JSO Executive Director, Alan Hopper, sent an email to all JSO musicians with a five-page letter attached. The final paragraph of that letter informed the musicians that their health care benefits would not be continued past December 31, 2007 unless an agreement is reached by December 15, 2007.
As we mentioned in this letter, we cannot sustain the costs of the current agreement. Because the Association was hopeful that we could reach a timely agreement, we chose to continue your health care coverage through December 31. Now we are faced with uncertainty regarding a new agreement and must control our expenses. Accordingly, we will not continue health care coverage for Musicians after December 31 if we fail to reach an agreement by December 15.
You will have the opportunity to continue your current health care coverage with Blue Cross/Blue Shield at the COBRA rate which includes both the Association and Musician cost plus 2%.
We truly regret this decision but we must preserve the financial integrity of the JSA.
Email requests sent to Alan Hopper late Tuesday afternoon for clarification and additional details behind the decision to cancel health care coverage have not yet been returned.
Historically, canceling employee health care coverage (regardless if the employees are musicians or laid-off staffers) during a work stoppage has produced disastrous results in the orchestra business. One of the most recent instances was the 2005 work stoppage at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO). In that instance, the SLSO board eventually reversed their decision, in part, after a wave of negative media highlighted musicians being denied heath care coverage for their sick children. One member of the orchestra was in the hospital recovering from open heart surgery days before the health insurance was scheduled to be terminated. The musician later authored a dramatization of the work stoppage and his hospital ordeal in the June, 2005 edition of Senza Sordino, the official publication of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (pdf download).
If an agreement is not reached by the December 15th deadline and the JSA follows through with canceling employee health care coverage at the end of a holiday season that espouses the adage “good will toward men”, it could prompt an unfavorable public backlash similar to the one experienced by the SLSO leadership in 2005.
Furthermore, the JSA has publicly announced that the December 7, 8 and 9 performances of the Nutcracker, presented by First Coast Nutcracker, Inc., will use recorded music. The musicians have indicated that they will picket each of those performances if they use recorded music. Calls to the First Coast Nutcracker, Inc. inquiring whether or not ticket holders will be granted refunds if they are displeased with the use of recorded music have not been returned.
UPDATE: The JSO musicians have established a Heath and Welfare Fund. Donations are tax deductible and checks can addressed to “Jacksonville Symphony Players Association” and mailed to:
JSPA c/o AFM Local 444
2030 Schumacher Ave.
Jacksonville, FL 32207