San Francisco - The Grammy Award-winning Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony announce that the Orchestra musicians have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement.   Last night, the Musicians voted to ratify the tentative agreement the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee reached ten days ago with Management.  The term of the new agreement is 26 months, with wages increasing 4.5% over the life of the contract.

“We are very happy to be bringing our music back to the stage at Davies Symphony Hall,” said David Gaudry, Chair of the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee.  “Our loyal audiences and fans are extremely important to us and we regret the inconvenience the work stoppage has caused the public.” 

“Over the course of this negotiation, the Musicians were told repeatedly that we must accept deep cuts and freezes and the concept of a ‘net-savings’ contract, despite the financial health of the organization,” Gaudry said.  “It was not until we went on strike that we were able to achieve a settlement that did not move us too far backwards in terms of wages and benefits.”

Thanks to the generous donor community the SFS has the second highest endowment in the country and assets of over $300 million.  Management spent $11 million for last year’s Centennial Celebration, has awarded large bonuses to top executives, and is planning an expansion of Davies Symphony Hall at a cost of up to half a billion dollars.


  • Wage freeze until Sept. 1, 2013 and a 4.5% increase over the course of the contract, with first increase beginning on Sept. 1.
  • Size of Musicians bargaining unit increased by three members over the course of the negotiation, from 103 to 106 members.
  • Musicians rejected draconian proposals to cut the pay of substitutes and extras, preserving equal pay for equal work and fighting back against the creation of a tiered work force where some workers are paid less for doing the same job.
  • Saved the medical plan that three quarters of the Musicians are enrolled in–but Musicians must pay more out of pocket costs for the plan.  The Musicians were able to reject the huge increases Management was insisting upon, but the added medical costs result in a net pay cut for our members.
  • Tenure for concertmaster, tenure for the three new librarian members of the unit.
  • Artistic gains with improved instrument loan program and commitment from Management to encourage donors to buy fine instruments to be loaned to Musicians.
  • Musicians continue to participate in a Defined Benefit Pension Plan, but no increase in benefit.  The Musicians were able to beat back proposal to change minimum retirement age from 62 to 65.
  • Musicians agreed to minimal changes in working conditions, resulting in Musicians working harder for less money.
  • Musicians showed flexibility in scheduling to try to help Management continue to build audiences, a shared interest for the organization.

“In light of the financial health of the SFS, the Musicians cannot understand why they were asked to take a wage freeze, a pension freeze, and cuts to our medical plan,” said Cathy Payne, member of the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee.  “We became concerned over the course of this negotiation that Management had lost sight of its mission of artistic excellence.  The Musicians bring the music to life for our community–but our agreement does not allow us to keep up with the Bay Area’s high cost of living.”

The Musicians were forced into a strike when Management’s initial offer changed minimally over eight months of negotiating.  The Symphony’s Executive Director, Brent Assink appeared for the first time at the bargaining table only after the Musicians went out on strike, four days before the planned departure for the SFS East Coast Tour which was to include concerts at Carnegie Hall.

“The Musicians on the Negotiating Committee were dedicated to reaching an agreement and yet SFS Executive Director Brent Assink never attended a meeting until we were actually on strike,” said Gaudry.  “Some of the members of the Management bargaining team were inexperienced and they wasted hundreds of hours of our time.”
The Musicians agreed to look at ways to help achieve savings in Health Care and for more than three months invested large amounts of time and money into studying a proposed Health Plan that in the end was too good to be true.  The Management overestimated the savings by $700,000 and didn’t realize their mistake until March 12, forcing the Musicians to strike on March 13.
It was only when the Musicians voted to reject the cooling off period, which led Management to cancel the tour, that the attitude changed at the table and real progress was made.  Professor Robert Mnookin, Director of Harvard’s Negotiation Research Project, was brought in to mediate the dispute.  An agreement was reached after two days of talks.  The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony would like to express our thanks to Professor Mnookin for his help in reaching a settlement.

Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony

The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony are recognized around the world as among the most talented in our profession.  We have dazzled audiences worldwide with our trailblazing performances and Grammy Award winning recordings of new and classic works. We are committed to preserving the SFS’ strong tradition of excellence and deepening the role of classical music in our community. In April 2012, renowned New Yorker music critic Alex Ross had this to say about the SFS’ critically acclaimed American Maverick’s tour:  “Tilson Thomas and the San Franciscans were at their best in honoring the monuments of the maverick tradition…the authority of the playing was staggering.”