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ASO musicians say Woodruff Arts Center nixed potential labor deal with orchestra

The ASO musicians union says no further talks are scheduled.
The ASO musicians union says no further talks are scheduled.

Negotiations between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the union that represents its musicians have broken down after talking points for an agreement were rejected by the Woodruff Arts Center’s executive board, the ASO Players Association said Tuesday in a press release. The Woodruff Arts Center is the ASO’s parent organization.

Christina Smith, the ASO’s principal flutist and a member of the negotiating committee, said in a telephone interview that the musicians and the orchestra had reached common ground on a plan for $4 million in concessions by the musicians over the next two years, along with an equal amount of salary and staff cuts among the ASO’s administrative staff of about 75.

“We were very close. We had basically reached an agreement,” Smith said. “I think the ASO board was delighted and a little surprised at the amount of concessions we offered.”

The union’s press release said ASO President and Chief Executive Officer Stanley Romanstein had informed it in an email that the Woodruff’s senior leaders had rejected the “alternative solution” crafted through the negotiations. The email says the Woodruff is standing firm that the musicians must make $2.6 million in salary concessions in each of the next two years in order to help balance the ASO’s budget.

The orchestra has accumulated an estimated $19.8 million in debt since 2003. Romanstein says it ran a $4.5 million deficit in fiscal year 2012 that is expected to grow in 2013.

In a statement released late Tuesday, Romanstein said the ASO and Woodruff boards are united. “The musicians’ press release erroneously seeks to drive a wedge between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) Board and the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) Governing Board,” Romanstein said. “This is a mistake, both in fact and in strategy.”

He said the boards agree that the musicians must accept the last offer from management, which would mean an average salary cut of about $20,000 each for the musicians. “The ASO and WAC Boards do appreciate the strides the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association (ASOPA) has made from their original position, but the boards have been united in saying that it is not enough.”

ArtsATL is also seeking comment from the Woodruff Arts Center leadership.

According to the union, the musicians were locked out August 26 when their access cards to Symphony Hall and its parking decks were deactivated. On August 31, the musicians’ health benefits were canceled.

“We are firm in our resolve,” Smith said. “We want to preserve the artistry of this great orchestra. The cuts they’re demanding would cut into the core product. It would be much more difficult to attract top players here, and to retain the ones we already have.”

Check back for updates.

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