Atlanta Stakeholders Dig In On Eve Of Contract Expiration

With the current agreement set to expire on midnight, 9/6/2014, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) musicians issued a press statement that makes it clear that a deal is unlikely; moreover, they single out ASO President & CEO Stanley E. Romanstein as the individual responsible for revenue performance shortfalls.

Read the ATL Symphony Musicians Press Statement

Press Statement 9-4-14

Atlanta, GA September 4, 2014

The current contract of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians expires at midnight on Saturday September 6, 2014. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association has been engaged in negotiations with ASO management for the last eight months.

Two years ago, the ASO musicians took a $14,000 annual pay cut. The musicians agreed to this because the ASO and Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) management stated that they needed this concession in order to balance the budget, and to create a new business model for the ASO.

The musicians were assured that this cut was a one-time only concession that would be met in equal measure by additional fundraising. CEO Stanley Romanstein has failed to raise the funding necessary to balance the budget.

Meanwhile, the WAC rewarded him with a new three-year contract, despite a catastrophic failure to reach budgeted goals during FY13.

It is important to remember this: The ASO musicians account for only a quarter of the ASO’s budget, and once again, the management of the ASO and the WAC are demanding that every single musician shoulders thousands of dollars in additional concessions.

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The genuinely interesting element within the musicians’ statement is the bit about them accepting the cuts in exchange for assurances that they would not be approached at the end of the agreement for similar concessions.

The musicians were assured that this cut was a one-time only concession that would be met in equal measure by additional fundraising. CEO Stanley Romanstein has failed to raise the funding necessary to balance the budget.

Howard Pousner published a response from the ASO via the Journal-Constitution’s Arts & Culture blog that provides a sharp contrast to musician assertions.

Responding to the charges, ASO spokesman Randy Donaldson said late Thursday afternoon that the musicians failed to acknowledge that the orchestra leadership in the last two years has secured $4.5 million in corporate donations, being paid over three years, as well as an anonymous donation totaling $1 million over two years.

Both sides also disagree on whether or not the current ASO offer is best characterized as one filled with additional concessions or improvements.

Donaldson said ASO management also disputes the musicians’ suggestion that it and Woodruff leadership are demanding further salary concessions from the musicians.

“The important thing is, that management, as part of its current proposal, proposes an increase for the musicians over the life of the contract.”

Details about the actual offer have yet to be made available but in the meantime, it will be interesting to see if this labor dispute follows the path laid down by the Metropolitan Opera and two of its unions by temporarily delaying plans to initiate a lockout in order to allow a Federal mediator an opportunity to assist in reaching a deal.

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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