Locked-out Atlanta Musicians Hear Support from Colleagues and Donors

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Atlanta Symphony

September 10, 2014; Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Arts & Culture”

NPQ has devoted much time over the last few years chronicling the labor disputes at classical music venues and the ways in which those disputes have been resolved. Sometimes, events are helped along by other stakeholders, such as ticket holders, donors, and local elected officials. And, in that vein, the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have been locked out by ASO management. On Tuesday, September 9th, the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra released this statement:

“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.”

The Arts and Culture Blog at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lists others, as follows:

American Federation of Musicians International President Ray Hair:

“Stanley Romanstein has again resorted to starvation as a weapon in his quest to extract unjustified concessions from his employees, all to pay for his failure to manage one of America’s leading orchestras. Romanstein’s starve-out tactics are an indication of his inability to lead the institution. He also knows the orchestra would never voluntarily bow to his reckless and regressive demands to cover the company’s self-inflicted wounds….

“By attempting to establish a feudal system, which would destroy the lives of musicians who have done nothing but bring joy to the community, Romanstein is threatening to destroy the institution itself. I doubt that citizens of Atlanta would want that to happen.”

From the musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, in a statement on Facebook:

“It is unfortunate that the management of the ASO does not recognize the potential artistic pitfalls their current proposals would create, as explained on the musicians’ website. The epidemic of planned lockouts of the artists who make up our great orchestras is deplorable, but they will only serve to solidify and strengthen the community of classical musicians of this country. We have seen it here in Indianapolis, Minneapolis, St. Paul and the Met—just to name a few. The proud and artistically gifted symphony orchestras of this country have taken decades to grow into the cultural treasures they have become. They must be protected and treated as such now more than ever.”

From Steve and Lynne Steindel, co-editors of the newsletter of the ASO’s Patron Partnership (a level of ASO patrons who donate $2,000–$9,999 yearly), in an email to fellow patrons:

“With the announcement of the lockout by ASO management, Lynne and I find we can no longer support their position through our work with the Patron Partnership Cabinet. Effective immediately we are dropping off the Cabinet and stepping down as co-editors of the newsletter. It is now time for true ASO supporters to stand behind our musicians and their conductors and stop the degrading of this wonderful ensemble. Since we can’t use the newsletter for this purpose we are stepping down….

“Lynne and I have supported the ASO through tickets and donations all of our 38 years of married life, even when times were fiscally strained for us. We have paid for the growth to world-class status once. We will not do it again. Nor will we sit inside while it is happening.”       

This is one of the more interesting trends we have been following in the past few years as arts organizations struggle to reorganize.—Ruth McCambridge