Atlanta Gets A Deal

Just as things were beginning to look especially dark, the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players’ Association (ASOPA) managed to reach an agreement on terms for a new four year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that officially brings an end to the nine week lockout that silenced the orchestra’s 70th anniversary season.

Adaptistration People 021Terms were finalized on Thursday, 11/6/2014 while the employer and employees officially ratified the CBA over the weekend. As of now, a copy of the complete terms have yet to be released but key elements related to wages, benefits, and musician complement have been made public.

The most contentious of those was the WAC’s proposal to remove the minimum guaranteed numbers of employed musicians. In exchange for abandoning that term, the musicians agreed to large cuts in both wages and benefits as well as reducing the current decimated complement and additional 12.5 percent for the next two seasons while returning to current levels in the CBA’s final year.

  • Prior to the 2012 work stoppage, the ASO employed 95 full time musicians but that number was reduced to 88.
  • The truncated 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons requires 77 full time musicians.
  • The 2015/16 season requires 84 full time musicians.
  • The 2016/17 season requires 88 full time musicians.

Read the joint press statement announcing the new agreement.


70TH Anniversary Season To Begin November 13 With Music Director Robert Spano Conducting Orchestra and Chorus

The 70th anniversary season of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will open on Thursday, November 13, after the Orchestra’s musicians and management came to terms on a new four-year collective bargaining agreement this week.

Robert Spano, Music Director of the ASO, will conduct the Orchestra and Chorus performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with David Coucheron on November 13 and 15.

The new agreement was reached Thursday after lengthy negotiation sessions between the musicians and management with mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services. The agreement was approved by the Woodruff Arts Center’s Governing Board and ratified by the membership of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players’ Association over the last two days.

“We are thrilled we have been able to reach agreement with the musicians,” said Virginia A. Hepner, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Woodruff Arts Center. “Over the last several difficult weeks of negotiations, both sides recognized that we all share the same goals and aspirations – we all want a world class orchestra that the musicians and city are proud of and one that has long-term financial stability. We believe this new agreement is one that will allow us to achieve those goals.”

“This agreement brings the restoration of a harmonious relationship within everyone’s grasp based on work we must do together to restore missing positions in the Orchestra while stabilizing and advancing the financial position of the Woodruff Arts Center and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra,” said Paul Murphy, ASO Associate Principal Violist and President of the Musicians’ negotiating team.

The new agreement calls for a six percent pay increase for the musicians over the four years; participation by the musicians in a new high-deductible healthcare plan, which will include increased premium contributions by the musicians and additionally provides substantial savings to the ASO; an initial complement of 77 musicians in year one, a goal of 81 musicians in year two and a commitment to 84 musicians by the end of year three and 88 musicians by the end of year four.

“Both sides made significant concessions during these negotiations, and we are grateful for the musicians’ willingness to work with us to reach a new agreement,” Ms. Hepner said. “While completion of the agreement is wonderful news, the reality is that the hard work begins now. Together we must find new, compelling ways to engage the community to assure the support the Symphony needs. We must work together with Music Director Robert Spano and our musicians to get more people in Symphony Hall and more donors willing to support our extraordinary Orchestra. We are confident we can make that happen.”

“We have already seen proof of that support from the Board of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Their commitment over the last few weeks to provide the Orchestra with additional, extraordinary financial support gave us important flexibility as we finalized the new agreement. The Board deserves the gratitude of everyone who loves the Orchestra.”

“We are grateful and humbled by the incredible outpouring of support displayed for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from our community as well as across the country and around the world. The unwavering support for the Musicians and the ASO as an institution by both Music Director Robert Spano and Donald Runnicles, Principal Guest Conductor of the ASO, never can be fully expressed in words, but we are grateful to have such inspiring artistic leaders both on and off the stage,” added Danny Laufer, ASO Associate Principal Cellist and Vice-President of the Musicians’ negotiating team.

“The Musicians especially appreciate WAC Chariman Doug Hertz’ personal efforts in the final days to bring this very difficult negotiation to a successful conclusion,” added Mr. Murphy.

Both Ms. Hepner and Mr. Murphy praised the work of Ms. Allison Beck, Acting Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and Mr. Richard Giacolone, Commissioner of the FMCS.

“The mediation process was crucial in helping bring about this new agreement,” said Ms. Hepner. “We want to thank Ms. Beck and Mr. Giacolone for their tireless efforts during these last few weeks.”

The 11/9/2014 edition of the Journal-Constitution published an article by Howard Pousner that is one of the best available so far that not only celebrates the orchestra’s return to music-making but examines key elements of the agreement while simultaneously casting an eye toward the future.

I’m honored to have shared a few observations on the latter point for the article and if the ASO hopes to avoid finding itself right back at square one after the new agreement expires, the entire institution will need to begin a transformational process geared toward resolving what has become some genuinely debilitating internal structural problems.

Among the higher priority items are improving what appears to be a dysfunctional and deferential WAC-ASO governance relationship along with filling the CEO opening, a position which was vacated following a series of public missteps that led to what might be best described as abridged institutional credibility and contributed to the degree of hostility throughout the dispute.

For now, perhaps the best way to characterize the new agreement is “ratification is only the beginning” but one thing for certain is the date for the ASO’s first concert event: 11/13/2014 featuring Music Director Robert Spano leading the Orchestra and Chorus for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 (details and tickets).

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 “Atlanta Gets A Deal”

  1. Forgotten in the hoopla of the lockout’s ending is the 52-week pay and 95 musician roster in the past before the first lockout. Further, a large spotlight needs to be shone on the WAC’s funding manipulation and profits to certain board members.

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