S.F. Symphony labor talks snagged on wage-freeze proposal

Published: Friday, Mar. 8, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4A

A strike looms at the San Francisco Symphony, with its musicians authorizing the job action if an agreement cannot be reached on salary and benefit issues.

The symphony's roughly 105 musicians are in contract negotiations with orchestra management and a federal mediator. The musicians have been performing without a contract since an extension expired Feb. 15.

The two sides are scheduled to meet again Tuesday.

The strike, if it occurs, would force cancellation of the orchestra's upcoming East Coast tour, which includes a performance at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and may even affect the orchestra's upcoming performance at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis on April 18.

At issue for the musicians are wage freezes demanded in the first year of the proposed contract by management, as well as health benefit and pension plan changes, said violist David Gaudry, chairman of the musician's negotiating committee.

The musicians are bristling at the notion of wage freezes because the orchestra's endowment stands at $239 million. Additionally, pay has increased markedly for orchestra Executive Director Brent Assink. The board of governors of the San Francisco Symphony awarded Assink a one-time longevity bonus, paid in 2011 and 2012. In 2008, Assink was earning $456,179.

"So for them to come back to us and say we can only afford a zero percent increase in year one? We take issue with that," said Gaudry.

Symphony management did not disclose the terms of Assink's bonus or current salary.

In a written statement to The Bee, a symphony spokesman said it is working with the musicians union and a federal mediator to develop an accord that "does not compromise the future artistic quality or financial sustainability of the institution."

San Francisco Symphony musicians earn an average compensation of over $165,000 annually, according to the statement. Most of the section players get paid closer to $141,000. That pay comes with 10 weeks of paid vacation, paid sick leave, health care with no monthly contribution for an individual, and a pension.

Call The Bee's Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.

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