Economic downturn puts squeeze on Nashville Symphony

Friday, June 18, 2010 at 1:53pm

The Nashville Symphony has not been immune to the economic downturn that has forced businesses to trim expenses and ushered workers to unemployment lines.

As part of an overall series of cutbacks, the symphony musicians have accepted a proposal to extend the freeze on wages and pension contributions. The wage freeze that went into effect for the 2009/10 season will now last through the 2010/11 season.

The decision will save the orchestra around $1 million, according to Nashville Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Allen Valentine.

Despite the costly damage to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and house instruments during the flood, the fiscal cutbacks are not a response to the flood.

“The flood had no bearing at all on this actually,” Valentine said. “This was really in response to the fall of the stock market and the freeze of the credit markets in the beginning of October in ’08.”

The economic downtown was a double-whammy for the symphony that saw the value of its endowment assets shrink at a time when the cost of credit was increasing.

Patrons also starting keeping a closer watch on their disposable income that also hurt the symphony.

“Those two things had a pretty significant impact on the symphony. … They conspired to create a gap for us in our budget.”

The wage freeze by the musicians is a continuation of previous concessions.

Second violinist, Laura Ross serves as the orchestra’s union steward. She said musicians agreed to continue the freeze and extend the contract for an additional year to 2013.

“The musicians agreed in May 2009, to freeze their wages and pension contributions for six months, and to meet during that period to evaluate the continuing financial concerns of the institution,” she said. “These actions represent a significant sacrifice that will be felt by the musicians; however, the musicians understood the concerns of the Association, and agreed to help”

Valentine noted that the sacrifices by employees make up only part of the symphony’s effort. The group’s budget has also been cut by $2.6 million. Between the renegotiation of debt and budget reductions, Valentine said the NSO has saved a total of $5 million.

“We didn’t make our employees carry it all on their backs,” Valentine said. “We cut out a few things that would be largely invisible to the public. I’m really proud of our organization because the whole organization came together and acted like a family and shared the burden. Without cutting services, education programs, community engagement programs, or concerts we stayed committed to our mission while cutting the budget.”

1 Comment on this post:

By: lauross on 6/25/10 at 11:36

If you had correctly read the Nashville Symphony press announcement, (dated June 16, 2010), you would have seen that what it really said was -

"In response to the lingering effects of the global economic crisis which began with the collapse of the market in the third quarter of 2008, Nashville Symphony musicians recently approved a proposal from the Symphony Association which continues to hold their wages frozen at 2008/09 levels through the end of the 2009/10 season."

It went on to clarify:

"The mid-contract change to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement which was set to expire in July, 2012, between the Symphony Association and American Federation of Musicians Local 257, also extends the terms of the musicians' contract by one year, while delaying each subsequent wage hike called for in the agreement by one year. The compounded effect of this decision by the musicians will ultimately translate into more than $1 million in savings to the organization."

My entire quote, which you edited, was additional clarification:

"The musicians agreed in May , 2009, to freeze their wages and pension contributions for 6-months, and to meet during that period to evaluate the continuing financial concerns of the institution. In March of this year, the musicians agreed to continue the wage freeze and extend the contract for an additional year to 2013, saving the Association more than $1 million. These actions represent a significant sacrifice that will be felt by the musicians; however, the musicians understood the concerns of the Association, and agreed to help in a significant and meaningful manner."

In essence, the musicians agreed to 2 6-month (or a one-year) freezes, and pushed wage increases back by a complete season. So, in August, the 2010-11 season begins with the wages the musicians were supposed to receive last season.

Laura Ross, NSO union steward
{I would also appreciate if you were to clarify this in your next print edition of the City Paper. Thank you.}