Early Reports From San Francisco Opera Orchestra Settlement Look Rough

It appears the San Francisco Opera (SFO) and its orchestra musicians have reached an agreement for a new collective bargaining agreement. Janos Gereben was first to report on the newly ratified deal along with some key details in an article for the 9/20/2020 edition of sfexaminer.com.

It appears to be a two-year deal with a 50 percent cut in weekly salary over the course of the fall season.  While a musician press statement hinted that the remaining term includes a graduated series of financial concessions that are reportedly tied to future earned income results, no details were provided.

The musicians also accused the employer of unfairly forcing employees to shoulder larger cuts than executive level concessions. Details surrounding the alleged discrepancy were not included in the statement.

Similarly, the employer has yet to issue a detailed statement.

SFO Musician statement:

Tonight, the musicians of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra voted to accept devastating changes to our existing contract. Had we rejected these cuts—including 50% of our weekly salary for the fall season and deep but graduated cuts for the ensuing 2 years—we would immediately have been without any income or the guarantee of health coverage.

The modified contract leaves key orchestra positions vacant for seven years, and ties the musicians’ compensation to ticket sales. Both of these modifications are unrelated to the pandemic and outside the musicians’ control. Everyone agrees that the San Francisco Opera Orchestra consistently meets the highest performance standards. The musicians are not invited to collaborate on artistic decisions or marketing strategies, and yet our compensation will nonetheless remain reduced for years if management fails to do its job of selling tickets. The reverse will not be true—management’s generous compensation is not tied to its sales or to the performance of the orchestra. Nor is management sharing equitably in the sacrifices it is imposing on its musicians, chorus and other employees.

We are told that the Opera Board considers these changes necessary, though the company has amassed a Quarter Billion Dollar endowment. If there was ever a time to release more endowment funds in order to support the company while its artists work to reinvent the way we share music, a global pandemic is indeed that time.

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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