A Difference Of Opinions In San Francisco

Following up on yesterday’s post about the assertions made in a San Francisco Symphony (SFS) musicians’ statement that the SFS attribute their decision to go on strike due, in part, to ineptitude on the part of the board’s negotiation team. I contacted SFS Director of Communications, Oliver Theil, to see if the SFS had any response.

ITA-GUY-042The SFS musicians stated the following:

The Musicians agreed to look at ways to help achieve savings in Health Care and for more than three months invested large amounts of time and money into studying a proposed Health Plan that in the end was too good to be true. The Management overestimated the savings by $700,000 and didn’t realize their mistake until March 12, forcing the Musicians to strike on March 13.

According to Theil, the $700,000 change was the result of the health care provider modifying an estimate.

“During the course of negotiations, one of the potential health care providers under consideration adjusted their quote,” said Theil.”The musicians were notified of this rate change as soon as we learned of it.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this issue, along with others, may continue to be disputed by both sides for an indefinite period of time. But the aspect worth noting is how these differences manifest into an ongoing working relationship, both day to day and the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.

Should both sides fail to resolve these differences, or at the very least come to terms with them, it could be an indication that the next round of negotiations may be as tough, if not tougher, than the one they recently concluded. Simply put, these aren’t the sorts of issues stakeholders should leave unresolved if they hope to avoid another acrimonious negotiation.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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3 thoughts on “A Difference Of Opinions In San Francisco”

  1. Oftentimes when a vendor ‘adjusts’ their quote, it’s because the client has brought the mistake to their attention. Perhaps management discovered the error on the 12th only because the musicians found it and brought it to their attention. That would make Theil’s statement accurate while explaining the musician claims of ineptitude.

  2. I’m writing as the San Francisco Symphony’s Musician’s chairperson for the Negotiating Committee. I have not been asked to give an opinion, but I offer it as an attempt to peel away up some of the confusion attached to this story.

    Our management learned on Friday March 8 that the proposed bid for Health Insurance for our new labor agreement had been rescinded by the carrier, but waited until March 12th to tell us. The health plan was a key element in their proposal for the prior 5 months. My team spent dozens of hours and thousands of our union local’s dollars studying this plan, new to us, in great detail. Unfortunately the sudden revelation on March 12 that the premium structure, and its associated savings, had increased precipitously, meant that there was virtually no comprehensive proposal on the table from the management bargaining team whatsoever, given that each interdependent element of a package relies on all the other parts.This all shook loose 14 weeks past the expiration of the prior contract and one day before the orchestra was poised to go on strike.

    My committee never used the term “ineptitude” publicly to describe our management’s crisis surrounding this, but we have been frustrated by their belief that it is possible to achieve large savings in health care without a commensurate loss in benefit-level as if by sleight of hand. Our own excellent consultant advised us this is not possible, and predicted such thinking would lead to problems sooner or later, sooner as it turned out.

    My team never contacted the insurance carrier, there are corporate firewalls preventing that sort of contact, rather it was the carrier’s belated discovery of the size and nature of our participant group, formerly misunderstood but discovered by them at the last second, that caused them to drastically raise the bid, erasing the imaginary savings. For the record, we have made, and continue to make, every attempt to help our employer save money, where feasible, in this area. We believe in collaborative problem-solving and continue to expect to see the Symphony flourish as an efficient and prosperous entity.

    The fault for this crisis resided somewhere in the communication pipeline between the broker, the HR department, and the carrier. As employees, we have no control over their internal dealings. Our only participation was to repeat at the bargaining table our assertion that it is not possible to get something for nothing when health insurance is involved. Those companies are in the business of making money, they do it very well, and protect their interests very efficiently.

    I hope this clarifies.

    Dave Gaudry

    • Thanks for your reply Dave although do note that your contact information as an official spokesperson was never provided vis-a-vis my direct requests nor is it available at the musician wesite and in any press statement’s I’ve received. If the SF musicians now prefer that I use you as a primary contact, that would be terrific; feel free to send along a confirmation and your contact information, I’ll be happy to get in touch with any future questions.

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