Atlanta Symphony musicians ask administration to share in salary cuts

Facing a deadline of midnight Aug. 25 to reach agreement with ASO management on a new collective bargaining agreement, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Committee (ASOPA) met with management representatives on Wednesday. In a statement released Wednesday evening, the players said they submitted a broad-ranging proposal that would be sufficient to cover the orchestra's projected shortfalls for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.

"We have offered to reduce the size of the orchestra, reduce the individual compensation of musicians, reduce the number of work weeks and share health care costs with management," players association president and cellist Daniel Laufer said in the statement. But the offer hinged on management sharing the reduction equally.

On Thursday, ASO president Stanley Romanstein said not so fast, reiterating that management has already made numerous compensation cuts.

Musician salaries have gone up 23 percent since 2006, a period in which staff salaries declined 1.7 percent, ASO management had previously said.

In its statement, the players association disputed that, asserting that total staff compensation had increased by almost 50 percent since 2006, while total musician compensation had increased by 16 percent.

Romanstein called the musicians figures "curious because our musicians have had two representatives on the ASO finance committee for 15 years. They have seen all of the numbers ... so this is not new information to them.

"So to say the staff should participate and the administration should participate is a fine statement," he continued. "But you have to complete that and say, 'And we know that they already have.'"

The ASO has operated with annual deficits ranging $5 million to $6 million in recent years, with its accumulated debt mushrooming as a result. Management projects a $20 million accumulated debt by the end of fiscal 2013 and has said it is rapidly reaching its borrowing limit.

The beginning base salary for an ASO musician is $88,400. Typically in the classical music industry, accompanying compensation packages would include 100 percent health coverage, instrument insurance, pension contributions and extended paid vacation.

"As of today we have put close to $3 million of musician cost reductions on the table, which address every aspect of what we do: salary, orchestra size, number of paid weeks, and cost sharing of health insurance," said Colin Williams, principal trombonist for the 93-member orchestra. "But we cannot be the only solution."

CEO Romanstein said management was looking carefully at the players' proposal. "But we simply can not ignore the enormous sacrfices that this staff has already made."

The next bargaining session has not yet been set.

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