The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony posted this open letter to their Board on their Facebook page this afternoon (as of this writing it has yet to appear on their website). Its respectful and positive tone, and specificity regarding offers and numbers represent an entirely new (and much welcomed) approach and hopefully will create a new direction in their negotiations with the organization's administration. There are a couple of assumptions and arguments I find questionable and possibly irrelevant, but overall I think this is a huge step forward and very well-crafted.
Most importantly, they took control of the offensive game with a beautifully finessed combination shot: first deciding to not picket Sunday's Youth Orchestra concert (essentially allowing it to be held) and now  following up with this eloquent, nearly pitch-perfect statement of their position and perspective.

That puts the onus on the Symphony's management to respond in kind and for the first time in this debacle  it feels like some movement can be made. Nicely done folks, and kudos to all involved in this new strategic direction, and its execution.
Dear Members of the Board of Governors,

The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony are proud to be members of one of the world's greatest orchestras, a visionary organization that is in robust financial health thanks to the dedication and generosity of our Board. We consider ourselves very fortunate to share an incredible partnership with each of you and with our esteemed
Music Director, Michael... Tilson Thomas. The extraordinary support and energy that MTT and all of you have brought to the SFS has been the catalyst for the huge leap in the orchestra's artistic level, which culminated in our winning the 2013 Grammy last month. As we have stated many times, the SFS Board is among the best in the world and we are grateful for your commitment to the orchestra.

We were looking forward to bringing our SFS excitement and passion to New York audiences, and we deeply regret that the current labor dispute disrupted our planned Carnegie tour and Mahler 9 concerts for our local audiences last week. We know that the entire SFS organization was looking forward to our East Coast concerts. It was a blow to all of us that they couldn't go on as scheduled.

The SFS is in good financial health as the result of your careful stewardship. Our orchestra boasts over $300 million in assets and the endowment, at over $268 million, is the second largest of any orchestra in the country. Our Music Director is the highest paid at $2.4 million, and our Executive Director has received "longevity bonuses" over the past two years of $278,000. The SFS spent $79 million last season for the Centennial Celebration; $11 million more than in any other season, more than the total additional cost of our initial three-year contract proposal. While we understand that the latest recession hurt a number of orchestras across the country, it seems to us after careful analysis of documents provided to the Negotiating Committee that the SFS came through the economic downturn quite well. Indeed, during the depths of the recession, the SFS surpassed its fundraising goals for the Second Century Campaign bringing in over $145 million. Why then is our Management insisting that the Musicians accept cuts in benefits, wage freezes and changes in working conditions at the bargaining table?

For the SFS Musicians, it's a question of fairness. We are concerned that the SFS has lost sight of its artistic mission. The Musicians are the heart of our organization. We make the music come to life with our impassioned and exciting performances for audiences around the world as well as at home, for our Bay Area community. We don't understand why we should not share in the success of the organization by receiving, at a minimum, salary adjustments that reward our increasing productivity and keep us apace with increases in the cost of living. The high cost of living in San Francisco affects our organization's ability to attract and retain the best musicians. We don't understand why the Musicians were asked to accept a wage freeze for the first year of the contract when top executive salaries have risen significantly faster than orchestra compensation. We have seen the projections for robust growth in earned and contributed revenue and have also offered to assist changing schedules to work harder and make even more revenue opportunities possible. We don't understand why the Management has been insisting on cuts in benefits and working conditions that must result in a "net savings" contract, further eroding the share of the budget to be allocated to the Musicians. It seems to us to be an attempt to capitalize on cuts made to other arts organizations that were truly struggling during the recession.

The Musicians are also having a difficult time understanding the overall resistance to our concerns that we have encountered at the bargaining table. For example, why was increasing the funds available for instrument loans for Musicians such a contentious and aggressively resisted issue in this negotiation? Even though we were assured that there were no defaults and despite the fact that the funds available for instrument loans had not been increased since 2001, it took eight months of negotiating to finally get a tentative agreement to increase the amount of loan money offered for fine instruments. These loans help the SFS Musicians to continue to improve the quality of the sound onstage and make an enormous difference in the quality of our artistic product. Why was it so difficult toget an agreement to increase the funding levels for instrument loans (loans which have always been repaid) when $3 million was "borrowed" from the endowment in order to fund a feasibility study for a planned new building at a cost of up to half a billion dollars? Why would this issue be at all controversial when the music is the lifeblood of our organization?

The Musicians have been and continue to be reasonable. If we saw that the organization was in distress, we would of course be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to ensure the health of the organization. Even though we strongly disagree about the financial health of the organization, we have explored in good faith ways to enhance revenue opportunities without destroying some of the important benefits and protections of our contract. The story being told about the orchestra's finances doesn't add up. There are and have been resources for blockbuster tours, programming, recording projects, special events and high paid executive salaries. And now that the economy is recovering, unemployment is declining and the stock market is at an all-time high, there is every reason to expect the SFS will flourish even more. Asking the Musicians to now freeze their wages, cut benefits and slide backwards artistically and economically is simply unfair.

Many of us began our musical training before we started kindergarten. We have endeavored all of our lives to reach the top of our field. The SFS Musicians give everything we have to our jobs and work as hard as we can to provide our audiences with performances that will electrify and excite them-performances that elevate the human spirit. Our work ethic and quest to keep improving are at the center of everything we do. We never rest on our laurels. We all love our orchestra. The Musicians are deeply concerned that the hard positional stance with which Management entered into this negotiation demonstrates a dangerous shift in priorities where musicians and the music are no longer central to the organization.

Again, our thanks to each of you for all you have done for the San Francisco Symphony. We remain committed to achieving a fair and reasonable settlement-one that reflects the financial health of the SFS, keeps us competitive in terms of attracting and keeping the best talent, and recognizes the central role that the Musicians play in the organization.


The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony