MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle Symphony Musicians Furloughed

Another disappointing development in the Covid-19 era American orchestral landscape. Brendan Kiley reported this evening in the Seattle Times that the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s management has decided to furlough three-quarters of its 250-person staff temporarily, bringing it down to 58.

The 88 SSO musicians will enter a temporary furlough projected to last from April 13 to June 1.

According to Kiley: “The decision was reached in negotiation with the musicians’ union — ‘a joint resolution,’ said SSO CEO Krishna Thiagarajan. “That’s really important — we want musicians to get the credit.'”

Fortunately, SSO will continue to provide health insurance coverage for everyone.

Kiley adds: “SSO has not yet seen any relief funding, either from the federal government or local, arts-specific measures — and, Thiagarajan added, they probably wouldn’t have come fast enough to alleviate the organization’s immediate needs.”

In another, more promising development: the National Symphony Orchestra musicians have reached an agreement with Kennedy Center management to take a 35% pay cut rather than an outright furlough, as reported here by The New York Times.

All hell broke lose last month when it was announced that Kennedy Center management planned to deal with the crisis by furloughing the musicians “for an undetermined amount of time so as to address the financial shortfalls from the coronavirus pandemic,” as Julia Jacobs reported. Following as this decision did on the allocation of $25 million for the Kennedy Center as part of the federal emergency stimulus package, the announcement sparked widespread outrage — and was used like red meat to stir up the anti-art frenzy of the MAGA base. That base, however, may have appreciated the quintessentially Trumpian tactics of announcing a unilateral furlough in the first place.

According to Peggy McGlone’s report in The Washington Post, “the musicians [said] they were blindsided” by the original announcement of the furlough. “They said they had contacted NSO Executive Director Gary Ginstling to negotiate some cuts but didn’t hear back. Instead, [Kennedy Center President Deborah] Rutter informed them that they would be furloughed [after April 3] until the arts center reopened.”

Fortunately, a more equitable process of grievance resolution was subsequently pursued: “Ed Malaga, president of American Federation of Musicians Local 161-710, said the musicians were pleased to resolve the grievance and avoid furloughs,” according to McGlone.

Filed under: music news, National Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony

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