In the March 5, 2005 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, music critic Sarah Bryan Miller writes, “Nobody won the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Strike.”
She is wrong on two counts. First, it was not a strike, it was a lockout. More importantly, it’s not accurate to say that nobody won. Randy Adams won hands down.
Mr. Adams has been enormously successful in raising over $130 million in a little over three years. According to him, he was able to do that, in large measure, by promising the “big donors” that all of their money would go into endowment, and that the musicians would get none of it; except, of course, as part of the annual draw of 5% percent which most orchestras take from the endowment. Had he asked those donors for even a small percentage of those monies to be available to restore, or start to restore, the salaries and benefits that the musicians gave up in 2002, there would have been no lockout, no work stoppage, no shattered morale.
Mr. Adams was even more successful than just keeping his promise to the “big donors” for this round of bargaining. The proposal ultimately shoved down the musicians’ throats keeps them at the current substandard level for another three years—thereby assuring that they will fall so far behind their peer orchestras that it will be virtually impossible to catch up.
Nevertheless, in the final year of the new agreement the musicians sought a base wage of at least $80,000 per year. That figure is still $20,000–$30,000 less than the scale wages of the peer orchestras but would have at least put them in a position to start the road back to parity. Mr. Adams ultimately offered a salary of $76,000 and a “stay bonus” of $4,000 in the last year of this contract (2007–08). Well, you say, isn’t that $80,000? No, it’s not. It means that the starting point for the next round of bargaining is $76,000, not $80,000. And, $80,000 in 2007-08 without the bonus would cost the SLSO exactly the same as $76,000 + $4,000! Thus, what Mr. Adams also wanted to accomplish is that it will likely be one or two years thereafter before the salary will actually reach $80,000 with no bonus.
But there’s even more success for Mr. Adams. Included in this desultory contract is a freeze on pension contributions, a requirement that musicians pay a higher deductible for their health insurance, and, for the first time, they must contribute to the cost of any increase in their health insurance premiums which exceeds 5% percent up to a cap of twelve of 12%!
Quite a coup for Mr. Adams! Quite a loss for the musicians. But what about the loss for St. Louis? As Ms. Miller wrote recently in connection with a similar tragedy in Houston, will the best players seek employment elsewhere? Will talented musicians from other orchestras, or right out of conservatory, choose St. Louis over cities like Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, or Washington D.C., all of which are of comparable artistic quality but pay an annual salary of approximately $100,000? And what kind of orchestra will be waiting for the exciting new music director, David Robertson? The worst part of Mr. Adams’s “victory” is that this orchestra didn’t deserve it. Despite the many hardships they have endured, St. Louis musicians have continued to grace the stage of Powell Hall with a special dignity and incredible talent.
Congratulations, Mr. Adams.