Huffpost Arts

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Stops Paying Musicians, Locks Them Out Of Facility

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In mid-August the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, in an effort to alleviate what would grow to become $20 million in the next year, struck a peculiar bargain. They agreed to take an 11% pay cut... if the orchestra's senior management staff agreed to take an equal pay cut. The ASO recently received the management's response loud and clear, when the orchestra stopped getting paid and was locked out of symphony facilities.

"Our comprehensive solution calls for the staff to share the reduction with us in the coming seasons to help stabilize the future of this great orchestra," cellist Daniel Laufer wrote on Access Atlanta last month. In tangible terms, the musicians' union offered to take $2 million in cuts each the next two years (totaling $4 million) if management did the same. The management's counter offer offered little flexibility on its part: $2.6 million in cuts each year for the musicians -- and no cuts for them.

Huffington Post Arts previously reported the entry level salary for an ASO musician is $88,400, which is typically accompanied by comprehensive health coverage, instrument insurance, pension contributions and paid vacation. In comparison, information from the Woodruff Arts Center’s 2010 IRS Form 990 shows that ASO Executive Vice President for Business Operations and Chief Financial Officer Don Fox was paid almost $300,000, including a $20,000 bonus, representing a $30,000 increase over the previous year.

Yet, according to the Atlanta Journal, after August 31, musicians received no payment at all. The Woodruff Arts Center, the parent organization of the ASO, stripped the orchestra of paychecks and health, dental, and disability insurance policies; to top it off they also barred the now un-paid employees from the premises.

Symphony member Hunt Archbold responded to the news on Patch.com, relaying the consequences of the Woodruff's decision both in fiscal and figurative terms: "Their insistence on $2.6 million in cuts to the musicians alone, regardless of any other factors, certainly implies a misplaced priority of budgeting over mission, and suggests that they do not have in mind the best interests of the Atlanta Symphony, the communities it serves, or Atlanta itself, whose world-wide reputation the ASO enhances."

ASO President and CEO Stanley Romanstein took a different tack, accusing musicians of erroneously attempting to "drive a wedge" between themselves and the management. Orchestra blogger Drew McManus highlights Romanstein's reasoning behind the uncompromising sacrifice: "ASOPA continues to state that we are asking them to shoulder the sole burden of lowering expenses and balancing the budget, ignoring the fact that, since 2006, average staff compensation has been reduced by 1.7%. During this same period, average musician compensation has risen 23.6%."

What do you think, readers? Does Romanstein have a point? Is there a better solution to the ASO's mounting debt? Let us know in the comments section below.

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