Late last spring, as the SFS negotiating committee was gearing up to meet with management, it seemed like it would be a straightforward negotiation. The orchestra’s finances were in excellent shape, as confirmed by a Ron Bauers audit (one of the healthiest arts organizations in the country, he reported) and by our board president, John Goldman (at the December 2007 Annual Meeting—six months before negotiations were to begin in earnest). The SFS had ended its 2006–2007 fiscal year with a surplus of $454,000 on an operating budget of $58.3 million. SFS Executive Director Brent Assink anticipated healthy finances for the near future, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “We don’t see this as an aberration…we see this in our financial forecast for the next two or three years.”
Media was being negotiated at the national level, with bargaining on a national Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) slated to begin in September. The SFS was signed on for those talks, so media would not be an issue. Pension might be a bit thorny (what with the 2006 Pension Protection Act), and management wanted to make some changes in auditions, but relatively speaking, it seemed like a new collective bargaining agreement would be negotiated without too much difficulty. The orchestra had great confidence in our attorney, Susan Martin, and the experienced members of the negotiating committee, chaired by violist David Gaudry.
The first formal bargaining meeting with management took place in September, just as the markets were beginning to take a nosedive. On the day opening proposals were to be exchanged, John Kieser, general manager and director of electronic media for the SFS, informed the committee that the SFS would be pulling out of the upcoming IMA talks, and wanted to bargain media at the local level. Two weeks later, management’s opening media proposal was revealed—a convergence agreement that would allow them to capture unlimited audio and audio-visual material of all orchestra services, including activity around the stage before and after services, for no compensation. For unlimited release of any of these materials, the management would pay our current radio fee of $30 per week ($1,560 per year) plus 50% revenue sharing.
For years, the negotiating committee and the media committee of the SFS have tried to improve our embarrassingly inadequate radio payment, which has been the same for about twenty years ($30 per week for unlimited radio broadcasts). To our dismay, many of our colleagues around the country have seen this radio language in front of them at their local negotiations, presented in an effort to force concessions in radio. Despite spending the bulk of our energy on this issue at the table three years ago, the only improvement we were able to make was a 10% AFM-EPF payment on the $30. So now, our management was proposing a total media buyout—for our pathetic radio payment plus revenue sharing! (Over the past five seasons, SFS musicians have been paid approximately $5,000 per season for media, with total media wages last year close to $9,000. Musician costs represent 9%–12% of SFS production costs for media.)
From the outset, the negotiating committee insisted that no media, aside from radio, could be bargained at the local level—the bargaining rights were with the AFM. Management disagreed, insisting that since the SFS had pulled out of convergence talks before they began, they could bargain media locally. Trish Polach, attorney for the AFM in the IMA negotiations, along with Susan Martin and the committee, told John Kieser that he needed to go back to the national table to bargain. When the management team complained that things weren’t happening fast enough for the SFS at the national table, the AFM offered to work with the SFS in an effort to come to terms on a convergence agreement that could be a model for a large-scale institution going forward, and while the SFS would not agree that they did not have the right to bargain media locally, they agreed to negotiate directly with the Federation.
The deadline for our CBA was fast approaching (November 28) with no commitment from management to return to the national table for media and serious problems with the pension aspect of the negotiation. Management was proposing changing our current defined benefit pension of $64,000 to a frozen accrual type of plan which would have had devastating consequences for the pensions of younger members of the orchestra. Many members would have seen their benefit cut to 30% or less of their current level, according to figures provided by two different actuarial firms—a result that was totally unacceptable to the negotiating committee. Susan and the committee urged the orchestra to play and talk, extending our November 28 deadline to January 17, 2009, two days before the scheduled SFS west coast tour.
There was not much progress on the media front during this time. Throughout the process, management argued that having cameras on stage 24/7 and doing media for almost no payment was “part and parcel of being a musician in the SFS today.” They said the board would not accept a contract without a “groundbreaking” agreement for media. Despite hours of negotiations by phone with the AFM and a subcommittee of musicians from the SFS and ICSOM Media Committee, and a full day of negotiations with the AFM team in San Francisco on January 5, the SFS’s offer for a convergence agreement went up only $15 a week, to $45 dollars for unlimited capture and exploitation of recorded material. It was clear that no resolution could be reached on media by the new deadline.
With the economic news worsening by the day, the committee engaged in intense bargaining two days before the new deadline. Thanks to Susan Martin’s expertise in pension and the diligence of the committee, management finally relented and agreed that the defined benefit pension would remain in place. On the afternoon of the extended deadline, all issues for a four-year agreement seemed to be resolved except for electronic media. The committee offered a two-year agreement with no changes to media. This was rejected by management—who continued to insist that the board would not accept any contract that did not have a convergence agreement.
While orchestra members were hammering picket signs backstage on that Saturday night during the concert (“THE SFS IS NOT A REALITY SHOW!”), an agreement was reached. Scale would increase by about 4% for each year of the agreement, pension would go up to $75,000 in the final year of the contract, and media would remain the same for year one ($1,560 for radio), with the amount of money available for media rising to $4,000 by year four. Management agreed to back off of their convergence proposal in exchange for assurances that the musicians would work under the Live Recording Agreement (LRA—we had refused approval in the past because we had been doing the same live recording work under SRLA), and agree to some exploitation of the archives (we would not agree to downloads from the radio archive for no upfront payment, because our radio fee was so low). The orchestra agreed to go on tour, and to extend the contract deadline to February 10 to allow for specific media terms to be reached.
After the orchestra returned from tour, local media negotiations to decide what could be done under existing Federation agreements began. The committee was disappointed when management put the same type of convergence agreement on the table at the opening meeting, forcing the committee to continue to beat back against convergence after management had agreed to take it off the table. A final settlement was reached in the early morning of February 11 after months of grueling negotiations, with talks continuing all night long and into the next day. The new media language worked out in consultation with the SFS Media Oversight Committee (MOC, consisting of the LIOC and the LOC) states that SFS musicians will work under LRA for a payment of 8% of scale (waiving project approval), allows digital downloads for no upfront payment but a revenue sharing model similar to Chicago Symphony’s, and expands the promotional language and uses of captured material. In exchange for these changes, Management agreed to increase our audio compensation to 3% of scale for 39 weeks, the standard payment among our peer orchestras, by the fourth year of the contract. The new MOC agreement also contains an A/V capture deal that allows management to capture a week of material for 9% of scale, which will be credited against future imprint credits and release payments according to the terms and conditions of the Symphony, Opera, & Ballet A/V agreement when the material is released.
A settlement such as this during these difficult economic times would not have been possible without the expertise and commitment of Susan Martin and the negotiating committee members (David Gaudry, Frances Jeffrey, Melissa Kleinbart, Linda Lukas, and Nanci Severance). On behalf of all of my colleagues in the SFS, I would like to extend my appreciation and thanks to each of them for their incredible perseverance and dedication. This group was truly a “dream team” and ICSOM musicians across the country are in their debt.
The SFS negotiating committee would like to thank Debbie Newmark (Director of Symphonic Media, AFM), Trish Polach (Bredhoff and Kaiser, P.L.L.C.), Bill Foster and Peter Rofé (ICSOM Media Committee) for their assistance with electronic media issues.