Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fire All Striking San Francisco Symphony Musicians

The unionized musicians of the San Francisco Symphony have gone on strike over compensation.  They claim they should be paid as much as other big-city musicians and have declared a work stoppage until they get what they demand.  This shuts down many of the in-house performances scheduled for Davies Symphony Hall and jeopardizes the performances of visiting artists who expect at least partial accompaniment from the Symphony.  It also forced cancellation of the Symphony's tour of the East Coast, including a performance at Carnegie Hall.  I was under the impression that every true artist in the world aspired to play at Carnegie Hall.  A pianist who happens to share my surname once played there as a child prodigy.

The reputation of one of the world's greatest performing arts ensembles is at risk because these union thugs in tuxedos are unsatisfied with a base salary of $141,700.  That is far above the San Francisco median household income of $72,947.  Consider that the median national income from that same Census source is $61,632; San Francisco's median is thus 18.36% higher.  It follows that a fair comparison for symphony musicians is not to the base salaries of other symphonies held hostage by collective bargaining but to nationwide statistics for musicians.  The BLS reports that the nationwide hourly mean wage for musicians and singers in performing arts companies (NAICS 711100) is $34.85.  The annualized equivalent, assuming a 40-hour workweek and 52 work weeks per year would be $72,488.  I will allow that employment terms offer vacation time, overtime, sick days, health benefits, and other adjustments to total compensation but a gross figure is useful in comparative analysis.  Let's apply the San Francisco premium I calculated above as 18.36% to this national figure, admitting some methodological imperfection because it is from a median set of figures and I'm applying it to a mean set of figures.  This premium gives us an adjusted annual income of $85,797.  Check my math if you'd like and I'll correct any errors.

Making over $85K per year to do something a talented high school musician can do for free is pretty generous.  Simple statistics tells us that's pretty much all a professional musician in San Francisco deserves.  Anything higher is a sum the market cannot bear for long without a return to a lower equilibrium through fewer ticket sales and lower ticket prices.  Music promoters and non-marquee acts figure that out pretty quickly because they operate in a free market.  San Francisco Symphony's unionized extortionists are unable to figure it out because their greed blinds them to market realities.  The Symphony's Board has a much better grasp on reality because it includes business professionals who must make a profit in the real world outside of collective bargaining.  The Board must close a four-year old operating deficit or there will be no future at all for this Symphony.  Math is a harsh mistress.

If the Symphony needs a scab player for the triangle or tambourine to help break the strike, then I volunteer to perform for free.  I've had no musical education at all but those instruments don't look that difficult.  I am even willing to solo "O Mio Babbino Caro" on a kazoo if Renee Fleming can't elbow her way through the union's picket line.  I'm pretty sure I could pick up the tempo if someone in the Davies front office would hum a few bars.

The greed of the Symphony's professional musicians is disgusting.  I would like to see the SF Symphony's Board of Governors and renowned music director immediately terminate the employment of every single one of the Symphony's striking musicians.  Replace them with the numerous musicians who compete for the small number of open spots in the company when they are available   Musicians who fancy themselves irreplaceable remind me of the federal air traffic controllers who were justifiably fired in 1981 when they arrogantly broke federal law.  The nation thanked President Reagan and even the leadership of the Soviet Union was impressed.  San Francisco is in dire need of such bold, decisive action.

The SF Symphony can do without the greed of Musicians Union Local 6 corrupting its performing artists.  Performing classical works in one of the greatest cities in the world is an honor and privilege that countless musicians dream of having.  The spoiled union brats on strike for exorbitant pay no longer deserve such an honor.  Their selfish action denies music to fans and brings shame to The City.

Addendum 03/22/13:  I shall state for the record that I am not in any way speaking on behalf of any party to this labor dispute.  No one involved in this dispute induced me to make this statement.  I do not stand to gain anything at all from any resolution of this dispute.  I speak only for myself in my capacity as a music fan exercising my First Amendment right to freedom of speech.