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San Francisco Symphony Protests At City Hall As Musicians Threaten Strike (VIDEO, UPDATED)

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SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY PROTEST
Musicians with the San Francisco Symphony play a protest at San Francisco City Hall. | Aaron Sankin

Update: As of Wednesday morning, over 100 musicians of the San Francisco Symphony have officially announced they are on strike, citing "management’s stalling negotiations and lack of transparency about the symphony’s finances."

"Management continues to stall negotiations and refuses to open its financial books so that we can reach a fair deal that will allow us to remain one of the best orchestras in the world," said David Gaudry, Chair of the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee, said in a statement. "With one week to reach a deal and no movement on their offer, management’s strategy is clearly to run out the clock."

SAN FRANCISCO -- Musicians from the San Francisco Symphony took to the City Hall on Tuesday, but they weren't there to serenade the mayor or promote the Grammy Award-winning institution.

Instead, a handful of musicians staged a string quartet "press concert" protesting symphony management's handling of their new contract.

Last week, symphony musicians unanimously voted to authorize a strike if a deal isn't reached by March 19, the day the orchestra is scheduled to leave for an East Coast tour.

"The orchestra is pretty adamant about demonstrating our solidarity," said Dave Gaudry, the chairman of the Musicians Negotiating Committee who has played viola with the San Francisco Symphony for over three decades. "[Symphony management] has offered pension and wage freezes, but we want an increase in our wage scale to approach our peers in Chicago and Los Angeles."

The musicians' previous contract with the symphony expired in February, but both sides have been working with a federal mediator to hammer out a new one since last September. As a way of emphasizing their point that the Los Angeles Symphony treats its musicians better than San Francisco, during Tuesday's protest, members of the string quartet wore Los Angeles Dodgers caps and placed a San Francisco Giants hat on the floor between them.

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Gaudry indicated the orchestra is looking for five percent annual wage increases in their next contract to keep up with San Francisco's rapidly rising standard of living. He demanded the symphony open its books so the union could see exactly how much money it's bringing in. "How [can] symphony executives be giving themselves raises and embarking on massive spending programs while asking the musicians to make major sacrifices," he told the Chicago Sun-Times in a statement.

Oliver Theil, the San Francisco Symphony's Director of Communications, told the Huffington Post that the symphony had actually offered the musicians a salary increase in their new contract, although he declined to go into precise details. Additionally, he argued that the musicians are already well compensated with an average annual salary of over $165,000 (making them one of the top three highest paid orchestras in the country). They receive ten weeks paid vacation, full health coverage with no monthly contribution, a $74,000 yearly pension for retiring and, over the past four years, have received a salary bump of just over 17 percent.

"As a nonprofit, we are fully transparent; all of our financial information is publicly available," explained Theil. "We've responded to at least 50 requests for financial information--that's over 500 pages."

If the two sides do manage to strike a deal before the union-imposed deadline, the orchestra will be performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City on March 20 and 21.

Here's a Spotify playlist featuring some selected recordings by the symphony:

Correction: The article originally listed an incorrect date for the symphony's performance at Carnegie Hall.

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