April 1, 2013 / 7:06 PM / 5 years ago

San Francisco Symphony musicians reach accord to end strike

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco Symphony musicians who went on strike nearly three weeks ago, forcing the cancellation of an East Coast tour, have reached a tentative labor deal with management of their Grammy-winning orchestra, the two sides said on Monday.

No details of the settlement, reached on Sunday, were divulged. The agreement on a 26-month contract must be ratified in a vote by all 103 union musicians, who went on strike March 13 in a dispute over wages and benefits.

The strike resulted in the scrapping of numerous concerts and an East Coast tour that was to have featured performances at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

But the symphony musicians agreed to return to the stage of Davies Symphony Hall on Tuesday in the first of a week-long series of free concerts for elementary school children.

“We’re feeling good,” Rob Weir, a bassoonist on the musicians’ negotiating team, told Reuters. “We love what we do, and we want to keep providing to our community a level of musicianship that they deserve.”

Weir said the musicians voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to return to work and were expected to vote this week on whether to ratify the proposed contract. The symphony’s board of governors also plans to vote this week on the contract.

“We are all looking forward to the return of our musicians to the stage of Davies Symphony Hall and sharing our music-making with our community once again,” Brent Assink, the symphony’s executive director, said in an email.

Weir said he and the other musicians deem the strike a success because it forced management to work out a deal he believes will allow the symphony to continue to hire the nation’s best musicians.

“It’s about recruiting,” he said. “We’re wanting to preserve this institution so this great orchestra stays a great orchestra. We’re not just doing this so we can get a richer contract for us. We’re talking about the long-term sustainability of our art.”

At the start of the strike, the musicians complained that management was out to freeze their wages.

To retain the most talented players, the musicians say they must be compensated as well as their peers in the country’s top orchestras. Base pay for musicians in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic is slightly higher than base pay for San Francisco Symphony musicians.

Annual base pay for San Francisco Symphony musicians is $141,700, Weir said.

The musicians’ contract expired on February 15, five days after the ensemble received its 15th Grammy Award for best orchestral performance.

Other U.S. orchestras also have experienced recent labor strife. The Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis locked out its players in October after it failed to reach a deal with musicians over wage cuts, leading to performances being canceled through April 7.

Chicago Symphony musicians walked out last fall, but returned just 48 hours later when management offered a 4.5 percent increase over three years, according to symphony news releases.

Reporting by Ronnie Cohen; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler

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