Chicago Symphony musicians issue statement ‘deploring’ lockout of ASO players

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians and supporters picket in front of the Woodruff Arts Center Monday, September 8, 2014. A Saturday deadline passed without a deal in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement negotiations between management and the musicians. A statement released just past midnight by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association said that the musicians believe they are being locked out by ASO management. It was followed momentarily by a statement from ASO management that warned that the 2014-15 season, which is scheduled to open Sept. 25, may be delayed or cancelled. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians and supporters picket in front of the Woodruff Arts Center on Monday. The protesters returned on Tuesday. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

The musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday released a strongly worded rebuke of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra management for locking out ASO musicians Sunday morning when the two sides could not agree to a collective bargaining agreement before the old contract expired.

“We particularly deplore ASO management’s decision to use the harshest possible hardball labor tactic, the lockout,” the statement said in part, “instead of working with the musicians to reach a labor agreement in an atmosphere of good faith and respect.”

It marked the second time in as many years that ASO musicians have been locked out by the orchestra’s administration. In 2012, the lockout lasted a month before an agreement was forged that allowed the ASO season to open on time.

The musicians had offered a “play and talk” scenario if a deal was not made by the deadline. On Sunday they reeled from management’s decision to lock them out, halting their pay, again. Their health benefits will continue through the end of the month; they then would qualify for COBRA continuation health coverage required by federal law.

Shortly before the agreement deadline, Daniel Laufer, an ASO cellist and negotiating committee member, told the AJC: “The musicians are more than willing to have a ‘ play and talk’ scenario as orchestras such as the New York Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera and Nashville have done with mutual success many times, including the last couple of weeks.”

On Sunday, ASO president and CEO Stanley Romanstein said the lockout was necessary because the two sides had spent eight months talking without making enough progress toward an agreement. The ASO finished fiscal 2014 with a $2 million deficit and is carrying an additional $5 million in debt, and Romanstein has said it can not continue to borrow against its endowment, valued at $98.5 million in 2007 and now worth $70 million.

After a month without pay in 2012, the locked-out players rancorously conceded to significant concessions: a $5.2 million wage reduction over two years (amounting to $14,000 annually per player), with the salaried season trimmed from 52 to 41 weeks in 2012-13 and 42 weeks in 2013-14.

The ASO’s 70th season is scheduled to open Sept. 25, if another deal can be struck in time.

The full text of the statement from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians:

On behalf of the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the musicians’ Members Committee has issued the following statement in response to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s (“ASO”) lockout of its musicians:

“The musicians of the Chicago Symphony stand squarely behind their brothers and sisters in Atlanta, who have been locked out by ASO management – for the second time in two years – for refusing to give in to demands for unreasonable and unacceptable contract terms. We particularly deplore ASO management’s decision to use the harshest possible hardball labor tactic, the lockout, instead of working with the musicians to reach a labor agreement in an atmosphere of good faith and respect.

“The ASO has evidently made the grave mistake of trying to meet financial challenges by constantly cutting. All that does is degrade the quality of the music and offer audiences a lesser experience, resulting in a downward spiral as concertgoers and donors turn away. The ASO obtained cuts two years ago by locking out its musicians, and its finances failed to improve. The ASO clearly did not learn the right lesson.

“The ASO’s destructive and misguided actions should have no place in the world of symphony orchestras. Symphony orchestras must value their artists, without whom those organizations would not even exist. Locking out musicians, and terminating their pay and benefits as a way to force them to accept management-­dictated contract terms, is reprehensible.

“The musicians of the Chicago Symphony further urge all musicians, nationally and internationally, to join us in condemning this lockout.”

More AJC coverage: ASO maestros Spano, Runnicles speak up about contract negotiations; management quickly responds


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