Monday, November 17, 2014

Eddie's Attic Celebrates The End of the Lockout!

Allons enfants de la patrie 
(Come, children, let's go to the party!) 

Sunday, Nov. 23 from 5:00 pm until ? 

It's time to show your appreciation for the ASO's triumphant return to Symphony Hall! And the 10th Annual Chamber Music Marathon at Eddie's Attic is the place! 

All of us who have attended the musicians' community concerts during the lockout know first hand that the ASO is more than just a collection of symphony orchestra performers. These are highly skilled players, masters of the symphonic form, who also happen to be passionate about all forms of classical music ... and especially chamber music.  Because the players are deeply invested in the future of classical music in Atlanta, they are constantly searching for new and exciting ways to promote and share their love of chamber music in unexpected places ... including very cool clubs like Eddie's Attic.

The Chamber Music Marathon at Eddie's Attic is a popular tradition ... mainly because it bridges the distance between stage and the audience.  You'll hear virtuoso playing, you'll interact with the players, and best of all, get to know each player's artistry.  This is a unique, personal experience you cannot have in Symphony Hall.

Eddie's Attic is a superior 'listening' club, with excellent acoustics ... and is historically known as the place where Live Music Matters!  They also have a great bar, restaurant service, and a terrific wait staff.  And what live concert would be complete without an adult beverage, a dynamite burger and a chance to pour out your feelings about the lockout to a sympathetic crowd?

Come join us!  Here's the ticket link: Eddie's Attic 11/23 Chamber Music Marathon Tickets.

**** PLAYER UPDATE 11/22:   
Tomorrow night will be an amazing party! Come meet your friends at Eddie's ... We're United by Music! That means the Lockout can't 'officially end' until we all drink a toast to its demise, stick a viking helmet on it, put it in a boat, set it on fire, and send it out to sea. Let's close the chapter on pillaging and looting ... and open a brand new book: The ASO Moves Forward!'

Reserve a table ... bring your friends ... and get your party on!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ratification Feels Crazy Good!

For the FIRST TIME in history, the ASO musicians have come away from the negotiating table with a win. After over 8 weeks of being locked out by their parent institution, the Woodruff Arts Center, the players will be back next week to play in Symphony Hall, courtesy of a ratified contract which guarantees a complement of 88 players in four years, and a pay raise.    

We have all worked hard, supporting the players in what was an often daunting effort to get a fair settlement from the WAC.  

Was this terrible battle was necessary?  Why was it the players had to be threatened with the loss of their livelihoods as well as the compromise of their artistic reputation?   

The only thing I can say is that when I look at the weeks of work and struggle, I can't fail to see the good:  an orchestra with a better understanding and control of their place in the future ... two committed artistic directors willing to put their reputations on the line and tell the world of the great harm being done to the ASO ... a chorus solidly behind them, as they were two years ago  ... new friends online and on the picket line; the chance to meet thousands of vocal supporters who cherish their orchestra ... a series of highly successful community concerts, which reminded us of what we were fighting for ... the chance to face a highly entrenched bureaucracy and not flinch even when they called us 'crazy'.  

Next week, we will express our gratitude to friends and patrons in the best way we know how:   performing the Beethoven 9 in the place where we, and our orchestra, belong together.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Does Atlanta Have a Symphony Orchestra? (or Why Size Matters)

By Susan Merritt
Career-Long Musician and Music Educator

The typical size of a modern "symphony orchestra" is the result of the changing historical/stylistic periods in orchestral music. The number of musicians required to play the music written in each of the historical styles grew from small (around 25 players in the 1600-1750 Baroque Period) to very large (95-105+ in the 1815-1915 late Romantic Period and afterward). This was not because those crazy audiences just decided they liked bigger orchestras or the musicians wanted more buddies. It was because the composers of each period wrote music for more and more instruments.

To be designated a "symphony orchestra", an ensemble must have the instrumental forces needed to play music from each and every stylistic period. (i.e. a "chamber orchestra" plays only music from the earlier periods, thus needing a smaller complement of players; a "string orchestra" plays music written only for stringed instruments). A modern symphony orchestra, needs over ninety musicians on its roster, and, in some cases, over a hundred, to perform music of every stylistic period.

Quite aside from the requirements of the art form itself, professional orchestral musicians, like professional athletes, are engaged day in and day out in strenuous and sometimes injurious repetitive physical activity. If you think that's bunk, try sawing away on a violin or bending over a string bass for 6-8 hours a day and then being at the top of your form around 10:00 o'clock three to four nights a week. Repeat for 30 years. Shoulders, elbows, backs, necks, wrists, and hands take an incredible beating. You will be on a first-name basis with your physical therapist, neurologist, orthopedist - not to mention your otologist when your hearing goes because you sat in front of the trumpet section for your entire career.

At any one time during a season, there inevitably will be a number of team (orchestra) members on the "injured list" - yes, orchestras have an injured list. Sometimes careers (and livelihoods) end because of the injuries. Healthcare is no small item among your benefits.

In order to continue performing at peak capacity and to prevent the most common injuries, rest periods are essential. All musicians (athletes) need to be "on the bench" periodically. The rosters (complements) of teams must account for that reality, so that there are more pitchers, goalies, linebackers or musicians available than are needed for any one game (performance). Size of the roster is critical for two other reasons. (1) Both types of organizations train/rehearse and play as a team, with all the implied interdependencies cultivated by long-term work AS A TEAM, and (2) there (we hope) will always be newer players learning OVER TIME to play well with the team. Bringing in short-term, albeit talented, players from the outside who have not cultivated these interdependencies undermines the carefully fostered characteristics of the team (orchestra). The same principles apply in business. The Business Dictionary defines "team" as

"A group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project. Team members (1) operate with a high degree of interdependence, (2) share authority and responsibility for self-management, (3) are accountable for the collective performance, and (4) work toward a common goal and shared rewards(s). A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members."
( definition/team.html#ixzz3HYL2I3H0)

The chart below shows the MINIMUM number and types of instruments needed to perform music of each historical period, based on the composers' indicated orchestration of their works. This is for a SINGLE PERFORMANCE of a piece of music of the period. It, of course, does not account for the standard management of the orchestral "team", taking injury, illness and required rest time into account. The contrast with the present number of active musicians in the Atlanta "Symphony" Orchestra is instructive. It reveals how many non-team players must supplement the ASO when they play music written after 1815. Sometimes up to one-fourth of the orchestra. It also indicates that every single ASO musician must be physically well and present onstage for music written in the Classical Period (1730- c.1820).

Which music are we talking about? The music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Berlioz, all the Strausses, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, Bruckner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Grieg, Rimsky-Korsakov, Elgar, Mahler, Debussy, Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninoff, Holst, Ives, Ravel, de Falla, Respighi, Prokofiev, Gershwin, Copland, Shostakovich, Barber, Britten, Bernstein, Adams... . I'll stop there. These are some of the recognizable superstars of each period (and, ironically, the composers Atlanta audiences have historically been most likely to buy a ticket to hear). The composers of that group number in the hundreds, if not thousands. We should also mention the "Atlanta School of Composers" - composers whose music was commissioned, premiered and recorded by and are now eternally associated with the (once?) great Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Higdon, Theofanidis, Golijov, Gandolfi and Adam Schoenberg (and according to the ASO website, "...with other prospective composers on the horizon". Really?).

The Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) has assumed a role for which it was not originally intended, namely the cultivation, management and promotion of a symphony orchestra (or art museum or theatre). That role was rightfully delegated to the individual managers and boards of directors of each division of the Center – those with the expertise to do that. The Woodruff Arts Center handled facilities, payroll, corporate fundraising, security, etc., but not the artistic product. In other words, WAC played a support role to the actual artistic product. Divisions paid WAC their share of the “rent” and other services. The WAC in turn shared the corporate funds raised with the divisions according to their respective budget size.

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, famously said of bad companies: “… the ‘product people’ get run out of the decision-making forums. The companies forget how to make great products. The product sensibility and product genius that brought them to this monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product vs. a bad product.” (Carey, Ryan. The Eight Greatest Quotes from Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview. March 6, 2013. http://www.pastemagazine. com/blogs/lists/2013/03/the-eight-most-important-passages-from-steve-jobs-the-lost-interview.html)

Given the current mindset, I daresay that we can look forward to the Governing Board of the Center embarking on a course that determines the types of artists and playwrights the High and the Alliance will be capable of displaying/performing – with no less disastrous results than determining which repertoire the ASO is capable of performing. The quality of the product determines the fate of the organization. The ASO, by its very nature, is the only WAC division that must rely on a permanent roster of musicians to exist. I fear that the present course ensures that the Center will eventually be “parenting” (badly) a second-rate and merely regional group of artistic organizations. Does the Arts Center aspire to mediocrity?

Creative accounting, meddling in the artistic product, and causing possible irreversible harm to the very institutions that give the Woodruff Arts Center its reason for being spell doom for the WAC. It’s time to wake up. A balanced budget for a second-rate arts center is no victory.

Do your job, WAC. Raise the money to support excellence.


Here's that not so pretty chart (hard to do in a Facebook post) by period and required instruments listed in order:

Classical Period/Early Romantic Period/Late Romantic Period/Modern Period

1st Violins 10/14/16/16
2nd Violins 10/12/14/14
Violas 8/10/12/12
Cellos 6/8/10/10
Double basses 4/6/8/8
Harp 0/1/2/1-2
Flutes 2/2/3-4/2-4
Oboes 2/2/3-4/2-4
Clarinets 2/2/3-4/2-4
Bassoons 2/2/3-4/2-4
French horns 2-4/4/4-10/4-8
Trumpets 2/2/3-8/3-6
Trombones 0/3/3-5/3-6
Tubas 0/1/1-2/1-2
Timpani 1/1/2/2
Other percussionists 0/1/4/4-5


1st Violins 14
2nd Violins 11
Violas 8
Cellos 8
Double basses 5
Harp 1
Flutes 4
Oboes 4
Clarinets 4
Bassoons 4
French horns 4
Trumpets 3
Trombones 2
Tubas 1
Timpani 1
Other percussionists 3

I know it's hard to compare when there is no grid to line it all up. Work at it. Read it and weep.You'll learn a lot. Then think: Does Atlanta have a symphony orchestra?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Robbie Report: How the WAC Can Cut $5M from the ASO Budget

One of the more vexing issues we've been struggling with since 2012 has been the negative financial impact of Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, for which construction WAC Board member Larry Gellerstedt's company received a no-bid contract.  Loan payments as well as operating costs were added to the orchestra's bottom line, digging the orchestra deeper and deeper into debt.

Robbie Clark sheds light, asks probing questions, and generally tries to gauge the effect of VWA's effect on the ASO, after pioneering through a thicket of available information.

The ATL Symphony Musicians logo was adopted
in 2014 by the players, to differentiate themselves and their
activities as a separate entity from the ASO organization.

Op-Ed from The Musician's Child

Lexi Smith, Harvard Class '18, was raised by a violinist; one of our violinists, in fact: Denise Smith. Since she was an infant, Lexi has partaken of her mother's musical life, lived and breathed triumph and tribulation with all the ASO musicians, and has been a first-hand witness to the depth of commitment and sacrifice a professional musician makes to preserve the excellence of the organization.

Lexi's op-ed piece about the ASO Lockout was recently published by Harvard College Democrats Newsletter ... and we publish it here (under the special category of 'Children Raised To Do Right').

While you're reading Lexi's eye-opening article, please take a look at the article's accompanying photo of the ASO and ASO Chorus, led by Robert Spano, performing a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall.

If the WAC gets their way, we may have already performed our last show at Carnegie Hall ...

Robert Spano and ASO and ASOC
 at Carnegie Hall, 2012

Monday, October 27, 2014

What the Counter-Proposal Guarantees for the ASO

In order to reach an agreement, the musicians have to insist on having some kind of personnel 'markers' ... a fixed number of players, the existence of which would contractually guarantee an upward movement in numbers, toward a fuller complement, commensurate with the orchestra's status. This provision is absolutely necessary to halt further downsizing (one of WAC's go-to solutions for controlling costs; the other popular solution is musician salary reduction). 

If this counter-proposal is accepted, WAC will have to find other paths to lead them out of debt and close the deficit ... but the proposal does guarantee that the orchestra would not be burdened by WAC's cutting personnel or simply refusing to fill positions (a thing which has been done often in the past to improve the orchestra's bottom line).

If this counter-proposal is accepted, WAC would actually be forced to raise money on the orchestra's behalf.

WAC's last offer was, indeed, close.  This counter-proposal brings us closer to the world-class symphony Atlanta deserves.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

WAC Walks Away ... No Agreement

From ATL Symphony Musicians
For Immediate Release, October 24, 2014
Last night just before 11:00 PM, the Woodruff Arts Center representatives for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (WAC/ASO) walked away from the table after three days and almost 40 hours of talks ably mediated by Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Commissioner Rich Giacolone, leaving the musicins at the Buckhead venue the FMCS arranged. Although some significant progress was made in health care -- and further time together may well have resulted in a complete agreement -- the WAC leadership continued steadfastly to refuse to support the need of a world-class Orchestra for a minimum fixed number of musicians. While the orchestra has been reduced by departures to only 77 Musicians, despite the required contractual complement of 88, the WAC refuses even to commit to 77 Musicians.
The ASOPA Committee volunteered to assist in health care cost savings by making a radical shift to a different type of plan that will save the WAC/ASO at least 25% -- over a quarter of a million dollars -- annually over the previous plan, which was canceled by WAC/ASO management last month three weeks after it locked out its musicians on September 7. The Musicians also proposed an annual compensation package which, in the final year of the proposed agreement (2018), would have the musicians earning $1,043 less per year than the compensation they earned during the 2011-12 season.
The ASOPA Committee has worked tirelessly -- and will continue to do so -- with no other intent than to achieve a fair agreement that protects the Orchestra's stature and allows it to return to making music on the stage where it belongs. The Musicians are available to meet and are certain that an agreement is entirely possible that will end the heinous lockout to which the musicians have been subjected. "We deeply appreciate the Orchestra's Board members and other supporters who are working to raise funds and who understand and appreciate the fight to maintain the artistic quality that has made the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra one of the world’s great symphony orchestras, and Atlanta's cultural flagship," stated ASOPA President Paul Murphy.
Attached for your information is a copy of ASOPA’s last proposal dated October 23, 2014 to the WAC/ASO.
Paul Murphy, President ASOPA
Daniel Laufer, Vice President ASOPA

Facebook: ATL Symphony Musicians
Twitter: @ATLSymMusicians
Counterproposal of the
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players’ Association (ASOPA) and
AFM Local 148-462
Sixth Proposal for a New Agreement
with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Inc./Woodruff Arts Center, Inc.
October 23, 2014

1. Duration and Minimum Compensation
(Compensation and percentage increases remain factored into winter season weeks only.)
2013-14 Compensation was $75,936.06
Year 1: September 21, 2014 – September 19, 2015 (52 weeks / 42 winter + 10 summer)
1% / 1% (21 weeks / 21 weeks) increase over $1729.43 = $1746.72 / $1764.18
$1746.72 per 21 weeks times &
$1764.18 per 21 weeks times = $74,095.56 + $3,300 (summer) = $77,395.56
Year 2: September 20, 2015 – September 17, 2016 (52 weeks / 42 winter + 10 summer)
1.75% / 1.75% (21 weeks / 21 weeks) increase over $1764.18 = $1795.05 / $1826.46
$1795.05 per 21 weeks times &
$1826.46 per 21 weeks times = $76,711.32+ $3,300 (summer) = $80,011.32
Year 3: September 18, 2016 – September 23, 2017 (53 weeks / 43 winter + 10 summer)
1.5% / 1.75% (21 weeks / 22 weeks) increase over $1826.46 = $1853.85 / $1886.29
$1853.85 per 21 weeks times &
$1886.29 per 22 weeks times = $79,224.18+ $3,300 (summer) = $84,410.47
Year 4: September 24, 2017 – September 22, 2018 (52 weeks / 43 winter + 9 summer)
2% / 2% (21 weeks / 22 weeks) increase over $1886.29 = $1924.01 / $1962.49
$1924.01 per 21 weeks times &
$1962.49 per 22 weeks times = $84,387.07+ $ 2,970 (summer) = $ 87,357.07

2. Health Insurance
ASOPA tentatively agrees to the BCBS High-deductible plan (HDHP/no. of plan??). includes the $1,500 / $3,000 deductibles for Individuals and Family with the following provisions:
1) EE shall receive from the employer for each contract year $1,000 into their individual HSA account.
2) EE + Child shall receive from the employer for each contract year $2,000 into their individual HSA account.
3) EE + Spouse / Domestic Partner shall receive from the employer for each contract year $2,000 into their individual HSA account.
4) Family shall receive from the employer for each contract year $2,000 into their individual HSA account.
ASOPA also agrees that each contracted Musician covered by this agreement shall contribute for each contract year $20 weekly towards the premium of the referenced BCBS POS High-deductible plan.
To fully agree with this major change in our healthcare provisions in our CBA, ASOPA will need to receive verification of the Summary of Benefits for the BCBSPOS High-deductible plan with the specific benefits outlined, as represented to ASOPA orally across the table by the WAC / ASO, and they shall be fully reflected in the Agreement.

3. Orchestra Complement
Year 1: A Minimum of 77 Musicians
Year 1 – 2: Best efforts to increase complement of Musicians to 81 Musicians by the end of Year 2.
Year 3: A minimum of 85 Musicians by the end of the contract year.
Year 4: A minimum of 89 Musicians by the end of the contract year.

In all other respects, except for making date adjustments to conform to the term of the new Agreement, the current (2014-2018). Agreement continue in effect as written.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The WAC Fiddles While ASO's Endowment Burns ...

John Ruff's open letter to the WAC on this subject:

"Dear WAC -

Your total investment balance (money in the bank), including all division endowments and other investments, was around one-half Billion dollars as of 5-31-13. The ASO endowment was over $86,000,000 as of 5-31-09. These investments should have appreciated over the past year. 

Assuming the ASO annual deficit is in fact $2M, a 2.3% return on the ASO endowment covers it. If you are already skimming the endowment earnings, the question is why hold 43 years of deficit reimbursement (assuming you need all the admin expense and both marketing and fundraising are operating at peak performance) and downsize the ASO? 

Either you do not care about the excellence of the ASO or you are waiting for its destruction to steal the endowment. Good luck with that. 

Forget the new "unique" model nonsense, save your souls."

And the WAC (pounding fist on the table, in fact) wonders why we can't just keep our mouths shut ...

Patty Nealon's letter to Rachel Maddow, MSNBC

Read Patty's letter below ... and you'll get inspired to write your own!  If the question running through your head is: why should someone listen to me?  Here's a true story:  after months of PR by the musicians, working on major newspapers, trying to get them to carry the ASO's story ... a reporter just happens upon a blog, all on his own.  A phone call was made, and the rest is history. This issue matters ... The ASOC matters as an organization ... it matters to the people of Atlanta what the WAC is trying to do to a major cultural institution ... and it should matter to major news outlets.  

The musicians are holding out, they are not capitulating, and we are organized to help them!  Now more than ever, chorus members and friends, writing to people and making them aware of what is going on is crucial.  WAC has walked away from mediation, refusing to budge on the complement issue.  If the WAC succeeds, there will be no ASO, and by extension, no ASOC.  Do you want to stand behind a 60-piece pick-up orchestra?  I don't ... 

Dear Ms. Maddow,
Happy Friday! There is more going on in Atlanta than the misplacing of 40,000 voter registrations. There are multiple efforts to enrich the 1% at the expense of the 99% through union-busting.
Yesterday Atlantans participated in a rally in which locked-out musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra joined with transit workers for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (presently working without a contract) and a few fast-food workers to protest unfair anti-labor tactics. The instrumentalists are members of the American Federation of Musicians (AF of M); the transit workers are represented by ATU; the fast-food workers are fighting for a living wage and are currently unable to unionize due to the hostile labor environment in Georgia and other so-called “right to work” states across the country.
As Curtis Howard, President of the ATU Local 732 writes: 'Musicians and transit workers may not seem like natural allies, but we must work together to preserve quality arts and quality public transit. Because if the ASO and the MARTA Boards succeed in their plans, they will transform Atlanta from a premier city into a cradle of inequality.'
Here is a link to the full article, quoted in part above:
Fittingly, this demonstration was held just outside the Arts Center MARTA rail station. One point brought up yesterday was that MARTA, in a move calculated to improve its bottom line, has plans to outsource and privatize transportation of disabled people. Atlanta residents who currently work in the existing MARTA Mobility division will lose their jobs as a result.
What is happening in Atlanta today is part of a wave of anti-union activity that has been eroding workers’ rights and incomes over recent decades. The actions of Gov. Scott Walker (a/k/a the Wisconsin Weasel) are broadly parallel to what has been done by the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC), and possibly served as a model.
• When Gov. Walker took office, he gave tax cuts totaling about $2M to corporations; he announced that the state had a deficit of about $2M; he blamed this deficit on teachers, social workers, and fire fighters, saying their pensions were the cause, and proposed that to remedy the situation these workers take an effective pay cut and be deprived of their right to bargain collectively.
• WAC has announced a deficit, which it attributes to the Orchestra, of about $2M; it blames this deficit on the Orchestra musicians, saying their salaries are the cause, and proposes an effective pay cut. By locking the musicians out instead of allowing them to play concerts while negotiations take place, they are effectively depriving the musicians of the ability to bargain collectively.
Please consider using your considerable talents as journalist and host to present Atlanta workers’ problems to the country. I will be happy to provide additional facts or put you in touch with people better-informed than myself.
All Americans are, have been, or will be affected by union-busting.

Best regards,

Patricia A. Nealon

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Join the ASO Musicians and Transit Workers Rally!

In our society it is murder, psychologically, to deprive a man of a job or an income. You are in substance saying to that man that he has no right to exist. You are in a real way depriving him of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, denying in his case the very creed of his society.                                                                                                                    -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is an important event on Thursday, October 23, 2:00 p.m.  The Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 732, ASO Musicians, faith leaders, along with friends, families and supporters are rallying at the MARTA Arts Center Station, 1255 West Peachtree Street to 'demand justice, respect, and equality for all.'   

FACT:  MARTA Transit workers, thousands of them, are the lowest paid in the nation.  

FACT:  MARTA transit workers have had no wage increase in years, yet are being threatened with a 15% cut in pay.

FACT:  MARTA transit workers are currently without a contract.  

FACT:  Many transit workers rely on food stamps and affordable housing assistance just to make ends meet. 

FACT:  MARTA management, refusing to offer a fair contract which would give the workers a much-needed salary increase, is threatening instead to outsource hundreds of Atlanta jobs to a private company.  

FACT:  MARTA's CEO, Keith Parker, claims 'fiscal responsibility', although with a salary of $345K per year, he is one of the highest paid transit chiefs in the nation. 

If the MARTA board wants a top-quality transit system, shouldn't "safe-guarding the livelihoods and working conditions of its workers" be a large part of the solution?   

It seems to me that the MARTA Board has taken a bite of that same poison apple we have seen being passed around:  'fiscal responsibility' above all else. What about 'good management', 'fair wages and benefits which allow a living wage to workers and the ability to support their families', 'safe working conditions' ...?  Why are these things always so low on management's priorities?  Because they cut too deeply into profits and have no value against revenue production?  I am so very tired of this ...

But is this Atlanta now?  A city run by union-busters?  The city that glided smoothly through the Civil Rights Era as the 'City Too Busy to Hate' appears to have metamorphosed into the 'city run by a few who are too busy accumulating debt and counting their wealth to offer any solution except cost-cutting at the expense of those who are doing the real work'.  

Union activities used to be punished with imprisonment.  Business owners bitterly hated unions, sometimes setting thugs on the workers.  Management uses more modern means now -- lockouts, wage starvation, scabs/outsourcing -- to break them up or dilute the union's effectiveness.  I think owners go to these lengths partly because they think no one has any right to tell them how to run their businesses.  But I also think business owners hate unions because they are well aware of the collective bargaining power of a united work force, and they are afraid of it.  What I write in this blog isn't nearly as important as all of us standing together to say it on Thursday. 

As Curtis Howard, President of the ATU Local 732 writes:  'Musicians and transit workers may not seem like natural allies, but we must work together to preserve quality arts and quality public transit.  Because if the ASO and the MARTA Boards succeed in their plans, they will transform Atlanta from a premier city into a cradle of inequality.'


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Who's Left?

I sit here today, like many of my friends and colleagues, wondering
why WAC is stalling on mediation.

I'm somewhat reassured, by people who know the folks at the WAC, that the WAC's mediating group isn't organized enough -- or authorized, it seems -- to pull off some kind of negotiation magic without first harping about hurt feelings and ingratitude and, in a mystifying move, leaving the table.

But I think their lawyer, Tom Kilpatrick from Alston & Bird ('complex and class action employment litigation and traditional labor law') -- and who will be negotiating at the table next week -- has an end game here.  He doesn't need the WAC to be organized.  He just needs time.

The longer WAC prolongs mediation and defers resolution, the more players are forced to leave town for subs engagements or take permanent positions elsewhere.  If we are not vocal in our protests --RIGHT NOW -- the WAC will soon have, through attrition, the freelance orchestra it wanted in the first place.

Between last season and this one, the ASO has lost 12 players -- due to retirement, deaths of two good friends, administrative leave, and a few leaving to take up permanent positions in new orchestras (one player left a principal position here to take up an associate principal position elsewhere!). 

These 12 vacant positions 
have not been filled!

Are we going to let the WAC and Tom Kilpatrick 'solve' its problem of 'downsizing' through stalling tactics, while more players are forced to leave?

We have to say 'NO MORE!'

Please read Jon Gunnemann's Open Letter to the ASO Board.  Get the history, get the facts.
Read Mask of the Flower Prince most recent blog post for a thoughtful rebuttal of Virginia Hepner's public statements.
Please read the Message to the ASO Board from ATL Symphony Musicians for the latest update on the mediation progress (or lack of progress, in my opinion)

We must get the word out!
  Please send letters to:

The National Labor Relations Board - Atlanta Office

Fulton County Commissioners
John Eaves
Robb Pitts    robb.pitts@FultonCountyGa
Liz Hausmann
Emma Darnell
Bill Edwards
Tom Lowe
Joan Garner

Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce
Hala Moddelmog   President & CEO
Brian McGowan   Executive VP & COO
Bari Love SVP Communications & Marketing
Janice Rys SVP Membership & Development Services
Katie Kirkpatrick SVP Policy Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Office of Mayor Kasim Reed
His Honor Kasim Reed
Anne Torres Director Communication
Camille Russell Love Executive Director Office of Cultural Affairs
Lena Carstens  Program Manager Arts in Education

City of Atlanta Board of Ethics  
The Board of Ethics has jurisdiction over the Standards of Conduct in the City's Code of Ordinance, which covers the following issues:
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Gratuities and gifts
  • Travel, meals, and refreshments
  • Tickets
  • Use of city property
  • Extra jobs and outside employment
  • Doing business with the city
  • Use of confidential information
  • Representing private interests before city agencies
  • Representing private interests in matters adverse to the city
  • Solicitations
  • Financial disclosure
  • One-year cooling off period
Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education
Please write to the Board members, to remind them that there won't be any of
or this:
or this: 
or this:
without their immediate help in urging the WAC to end the lockout.  Please ask Board members to communicate with the Mayor's office ... ask them to please get in touch with APS music faculty, who are not currently able to schedule school trips to hear the orchestra as part of their yearly curriculum. Those seriously affected by the lockout are the children, who are without these vital programs offered by ASO musicians.  There is no indication that WAC cares about these programs, or about the children bereft of them, enough to mediate fairly with the players. The damage WAC is doing to Atlanta Public Schools by its actions cannot be understated.

Courtney English Board Chair
Nancy Meister Vice Board chair
Leslie Grant
Byron D. Amos
Matt Westmoreland
Steven Lee 
Eshe' P. Collins
Cynthia Briscoe Brown
Jason Esteves

Donors (this list will be developed further and updated).  

'Dear Mr. Anderson:  Guess where all your millions of dollars went ...'
Richard Anderson, CEO Delta Airlines 

Most of all, write and send links to your friends, your colleagues. 

When Tom Kilpatrick and the WAC team sit down to mediate next week, if the city of Atlanta movers and shakers -- and those most affected by the lockout -- were to make themselves heard, they will become partners in spirit with the ASOPA which will be working hard to Save The Symphony Atlanta over the next 4 days. 

End the ASO Lockout!
Write Your Letters Today!

Friday, October 17, 2014

An Open Letter to the Members of the ASO Symphony Board

An Open Letter to the Members of the ASO Symphony Board, and to All Donors and other Civic Leaders Who Love the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus:

The ASO Lockout and
the Battle for Atlanta’s Soul

A Call for Moral Courage and Leadership

The lockout of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is most often portrayed as a conflict over the musician’s contract in the context of declining audiences and revenue for classical music.  While there is superficial truth to this characterization, it is profoundly misleading.  The deeper truth is that the lockout is one battle among many in an all-out war being waged by the management and governing board of the Woodruff Arts Center to destroy the Symphony and, by extension, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus.  This war has been carefully planned by the WAC for at least 3-4 years and has been carried out to this point through two major assaults on the Symphony, the lockout in 2012, and the current lockout in 2014.  At every stage the WAC has carefully camouflaged its actions through euphemisms (“work stoppages”), misleading public statements, and outright mendacity about its intentions, its actions, and its financial situation.

If the WAC succeeds in its campaign of aggression, it will destroy the crown jewel of Atlanta’s cultural life, its world-renowned symphony and chorus.  Much has already been written about the ASO’s astonishing record of recordings, its record number of Grammys, its many triumphs in Carnegie Hall and on international tours.  It is incomprehensible to anyone knowledgeable about the arts and classical music that the WAC is bent on the destruction of this treasure rather than finding the resources to protect it.  But there is another, more fundamental point to be made:  By destroying the ASO, the WAC is also defining Atlanta’s soul, permitting crass commercialism and the narrowest possible “bottom-line” thinking.  By commercialism I mean the belief that everything has a price, neglecting important human values and goods that cannot be given a market price.  The result is the triumph of short-term thinking and cost-cutting over the long-term nurturing and growth of the highest artistic achievements which have had and still can have a powerful role in shaping Atlanta’s civic life, enriching its culture, adding creativity in our schools, opening up imaginative and creative worlds for our youth, shaping the way Atlantans understand themselves and are perceived by the world.

By destroying the ASO the WAC is betraying the efforts and commitments of the founders of the Woodruff Arts Center, betraying the memory of the Atlanta arts leaders who died in the plane crash at Orly, Paris, in 1962, betraying the legacy of the great Robert Shaw, betraying the donors, subscribers and hundreds of volunteers who have supported the WAC and the Symphony over the last half-century, tragically limiting the future of our younger generation.  And, of course, it is treating the fine musicians of the ASO and their years of artistic preparation and achievement with utter contempt.

Make no mistake:  The current lockout is a brutal tactic designed to break the will of the ASO musicians.  The public statements by management speak of “work-stoppages” and of “continuing negotiations.” 

“Work-stoppage” can refer to either a strike or a lockout by management, and the ASO and WAC management use it to mask the fact of a lockout by them, a power move by privileged WAC management and board members, which not only cuts off all income for the players but leaves them and their families without healthcare and other benefits.  All the power—which is to say all of the money—is on the WAC’s side, and they have tried their best to control how the conflict is perceived by the larger public.  To claim, as the ASO has in emails to its subscribers, that Symphony performances have been cancelled while negotiations take place is barely short of an outright lie:  In spite of repeated attempts by the Musicians to engage in negotiations over the last nine months, the WAC has not once agreed to meet.  What they did was to deliver to the Musicians one “last, best, and final offer,” demanding unconditional surrender by the Orchestra, even while Doug Hertz, Chair of the WAC Board of Governors, has made public statements that “we want to work with them.” 

The current process of mediation, which has just begun, will not, in my judgment, lead to a resolution because both Hertz and Virginia Hepner (President and CEO of the WAC) have made it clear that the budget must be balanced; but then claim that it can only be balanced by down-sizing the Orchestra and giving over control of the size (“complement”) of the orchestra and decisions for filling positions to ASO management. No major symphony orchestra has ever ceded this vital artistic decision to management.  The Musicians on their part have courageously made it clear that they cannot and will not yield control of their future, of their artistic excellence and integrity, to management.  To be clear: The most important points of conflict are in fact not negotiable and that likely means that the mediation process will fail.  If so, the lockout could last months or years and the damage to the ASO could be deep and irreparable.

It Is Time for Moral Courage and Leadership

The Symphony musicians (represented by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association, ASOPA) fully understand the nature of this frontal assault, as do their many supporters from among the Chorus, their peer orchestras across the nation, subscribers, donors, and a far-too-small group of concerned citizens who have been waging a grass-roots campaign to save the symphony and expose the WAC’s planned brutality, its ineptitude, and its mendacity. 

But the war cannot be won unless civic and business leaders from the Atlanta Symphony Board, perhaps even some from the WAC Board and from other major Atlanta institutions, have the moral courage to break ranks with the leadership of the WAC and lead the ASO down a new path of independent strength and excellence.  I appeal to all of you, in whatever position you occupy, to take a stand in this battle.  Failing to take a visible and outspoken stand now, when courageous action and leadership can still make a difference, is to permit irreparable damage to the ASO and to condone continued mismanagement of the ASO and the WAC.  Will you want, years from now, to look back and realize that “This happened on my watch”?  Maestros Spano and Runnicles have courageously broken with tradition, risking the anger of the WAC management, to speak out.  Will you?

Jon P. Gunnemann
Professor of Social Ethics, Emeritus, Emory University
ASO Donor for 15 years
ASO Subscriber for 32 years
ASO Chorus for 24 years

Supporting material:

What we know about the WAC’s assault on the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra:

1.     On May 11, 2011, the WAC’s Board of Trustees voted to revise its Articles of Incorporation, eliminating the ASO from its stated purpose.  I do not know whether the ASO Board knew about this significant change.  The change was certainly not made public, whether to donors of the ASO and the WAC, subscribers to the ASO, or to the general public.  It is not clear that the ASO Players knew about this.  But the change means that since 2011 the WAC no longer saw the nurturing and support of the ASO as part of its legal purpose; and that this decision was consciously made. 

The original stated purpose (since 1965, I think) was:  "to form a vehicle for achieving high quality artistic attainment for the benefit and erudition of the public and for the nurturing and developing of creative talents and performance of participants in both the visual and performing arts; to receive capital funds required to provide Atlanta and the Southeast with first-rate facilities for a college of the arts and a performing art center; and to provide the management and continuing financial support for maintaining and enhancing the development of Atlanta as a leading art center; and the arts affected shall include music, symphony . . . . ." (Emphasis added)
The purpose in the new Articles is:  "The non-profit corporation is organized pursuant to the Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code for the following purpose:  To serve as a single legal entity which fosters, promotes and produces significant artistic expression in a variety of arts including music theater, the visual arts and art education for the benefit of the general public, and to transact any activity otherwise permitted by law." (From IRS statement Form 990, emphasis added)

In sum:  The Symphony was replaced by “music theater” in the WAC’s statement of purpose a year before the ASO was to renegotiate its contract with the WAC in 2012.  Even if this quotation involves a typo, a missing comma after “music,” “symphony” no longer appears as part of the WAC’s purpose. In my mind, the most probable interpretation of this erasure of the ASO from its legal statement of purpose is that the WAC Board was laying groundwork for its first major battle with the ASO Players in 2012. 

2.    The 2012 Lockout:  The contract negotiations scheduled for 2012 never in fact materialized as negotiations.  The WAC leadership repeatedly called attention to the many years in which the ASO had operated a deficit; they noted that the WAC’s credit rating had been downgraded, and they insisted that the ASOPA make deep concessions in salaries and benefits, the length of the season, and the number of funded players (from 95 to 88).   The WAC spoke publicly of negotiating a new contract with the Players but in fact there were no negotiations.  In spite of repeated attempts by the ASOPA to meet with management, they were denied any meetings with the WAC Governing Board or leadership.  The Players were presented a “take-our-offer-or-leave it” from the WAC and, after being additionally threatened with the prospect of having their Fall engagement at Carnegie Hall cancelled, finally gave in to the draconian cuts in pay and orchestra complement.

Those are the bare-bones facts.  But around this battle the WAC was weaving a public narrative that was deceptive on almost all fronts.  The down-grading of the WAC’s credit rating was consistently cited as a major reason for demanding concessions from the ASO in spite of the fact that the down-grading was chiefly a result of the debt incurred by the WAC in building the Verizon Amphitheater. Publicly the WAC referred to ongoing negotiations when they in fact rebuffed every ASOPA effort at negotiation.  Requests by the ASOPA and others for financial disclosure from the WAC were rebuffed.  The President and CEO of the ASO at the time, Stanley Romanstein, came to speak to the ASO Chorus at its second rehearsal that Fall and told us that there were many rumors circulating about the contract process; that rumors were dangerous; and that if anyone asked us about the process, we should answer, “The negotiations are on-going,” asking us several times to repeat this as a chant.  Two days later the WAC and ASO management locked out the players.  No negotiations had taken place.  The players finally relented and made ALL the concessions demanded of them in part because they were promised, by the WAC through Stanley Romanstein, that these concessions would be a “one-time” event, giving the ASO two years to do major fund-raising and get back on its financial feet, after which, in 2014, a more generous contract could be negotiated.

In sum:  The WAC had launched its first public attack on the ASO disguising it as “negotiations”; justifying its actions by appealing to a debt for which it was itself primarily responsible; further cloaking all of the substantive issues with a complete lack of financial or decision-making transparency; and making a promise to the Players that turned out to be either false or a lie.  It won this first battle.

3.     Between 2012 and 2014:  A few markers with omens for the next public battle in 2014:

a.     Stanley Romanstein received a reported $45,000 bonus from the WAC for his good work the preceding year.  Others at the WAC also received substantial bonuses.

b.     On the promise to raise funds for the ASO:  We have heard that some significant gifts were made to the ASO, including from members of the WAC and ASO boards.  But:

-       No major fund-raising campaign, no capital campaign asking for a broad base of support was publicly announced.
-       Letters to subscribers and donors asking for donations at various levels, ceased to go out.  My wife and I became donors when we first received such a letter about 15 or more years ago, and every year after we renewed our gift upon receiving another letter.   About three years ago, these letters stopped.  When I called the ASO development office and asked why, I was simply told that this was not done anymore.  My request that the ASO management reinstate the practice was met with silence.  Conversations with numerous friends and acquaintances confirmed that they too no longer received such letters. 
-       In late summer of 2013, some of us learned that the ASO Development Department had failed to meet its fundraising goal by two-thirds.  The Delta Airlines initiative, led by Richard Anderson, had been put in place to stimulate corporate donations; the original plan was that ASO Management would raise a substantial amount, the total of which would be enough to close the deficit.  However, to raise these funds, ASO Development Department went, unaccountably, to these same corporate donors asking for money.  The ASO was told “we have already given our share.”  This epic blunder, to my knowledge, was never adequately addressed in public, but had serious repercussions later in 2013.   

c.     During this time, the administrative staff of the ASO grew steadily.  We (some of us who have been working in support of the ASO Players) have learned that, on average, 40% of the total budget of U.S. symphony orchestras goes to players salaries and benefits.  The figure last year for the ASO was 25%.  Clearly the ASO has become administratively top-heavy with no measurable benefit from the standpoint of the financial health of the Symphony itself.  75% is a MASSIVE overhead and it needs to be asked whether reducing the size of the administrative staff would free up sufficient funds to help pay musicians salaries and benefits.

d.     In the Spring of 2014, the WAC and the ASO management moved to cancel the Carnegie Hall performance of the ASO/ASOC because of financial shortfall.  The story of Robert Spano’s courageous and dramatic intervention is now well-known to those who have been following the story, and has been reported in the national press:  Maestro Spano put $50,000 of his own funds on the table, then worked with a few others, telephoning across the nation, to raise the money needed.  Two things stand out from this story:  One is that Maestro Spano had to make the case to management and the Board about the importance of this performance not only for the ASO but for the City of Atlanta.  The second is that the money was raised in a short period of time, underscoring the weakness of the efforts of the WAC and the ASO to raise money.

e.     Here, a judgment more than a fact, but a judgment based on extensive conversations with other patrons and subscribers:  The marketing for the ASO the last years has been an embarrassment, packaging performance of classical music in terms of what seem to be assumed needs and drives of the public (sex, wine, and hedonism generally).  Why not talk about the way in which classical music differs from these human drives?  There has been no evidence that the people who are in positions of marketing and development at the ASO have any experience in the arts or any real interest in the music itself.

In sum:  The events between 2012 and 2014 showed a) large financial rewards for administrators whose chief work had been to cripple the ASO; b) no broad-based public efforts to raise funds for the ASO or to raise public awareness about the problems; c) a substantial growth of administrative staff and administrative overhead, likely to the detriment of the ASO musicians; d) inept and/or misguided fund-raising and marketing.   All of these were indicators that the promise made to the players in 2012 could not, and would not, be kept, something the players feared during this interim period.

4.     The current 2014 Lockout: 

The promise to the ASOPA in 2012—that that the deep cuts, both financial and with regard to orchestra complement, made then was a “one-time” correction—was broken at the beginning of the period for contract negation.  As in 2012, the ASOPA was again presented with an aggressive take-it-or-leave-it package requiring de facto cuts in pay because of higher medical costs; a further cut in the number of players from 88 to 78; and, most crucial, conceding future control of complement to the President of the ASO which meant, de facto, to the WAC Governing Board.  The tactics used in this second public battle were similar to those used in 2012:  Public statements that regularly obscured and misled by referring to “work-stoppage” rather than a “lockout”; to negotiations which were in fact not taking place; claims by Doug Hertz in public interviews that “we want to work with them” when in fact the WAC and top ASO management had refused even to met with them.  I have detailed most of this in the body of the letter.

As I write, mediation is underway.  It is not at all clear that the WAC genuinely intends to engage the mediating process.  Having first made public statements welcoming the mediation as a solution, we have learned from several sources (including an email from the ASOPA to the ASO Board and others) that after the first meeting with the mediators, Virginia Hepner and her colleagues left the table indicating that she and her team had no proposals to offer and did not have the authority to negotiate a deal.  There has now been a prolonged pause in the negotiations, with no explanation from the WAC.  So, questions abound:  Was the WAC serious about mediation?  Or was this another attempt to create a public impression of being ready to negotiate, then not doing so?  Was the WAC so in the dark that it did not know what was expected in the first sessions of a mediating session?  If Virginia Hepner does not have the authority to negotiate a settlement, who does?  And why was she there?  What game is being played? 

It is not possible to know the outcome if the mediation does continue.  But if the WAC gains the concessions it is demanding, or if the WAC simply lets the lockout continue without entering into mediation, it will be a catastrophic blow to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its Chorus. 

We can not let that happen!

In the above “Supporting Material” for my letter, I have tried to rely on factual reports from many sources.  It is possible that I have erred in places and I welcome corrections.  The interpretations of the facts are, of course, mine.