ASO and musicians reach agreement for three-year contract extension

By Maria Saporta

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players’ Association reached an agreement Sunday night on a three-year contract extension that will continue through the 2020/2021 season, the ASO announced today.

The agreement was completed more than six months the expiration of the current contract on Sept. 8. The new agreement will include increases to compensation totaling approximately 3 percent annually over the three-year period.

Robert Spano

Robert Spano conducts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Photo by Jeff Roffman for the ASO)

The agreement was made possible due to the strong financial performance of the institution over the past four years, along with the generosity of an anonymous donor who stepped forward with support for the compensation increases.

In addition, the agreement will reflect changes to the ASO’s work rules.

During the term of this extension, the Orchestra’s complement will remain unchanged. During the most recent collective bargaining agreement, the ASO agreed to raise $25 million for the Musicians’ Endowment Fund to restore and fund 11 positions in the Orchestra.

The ASO exceeded the $25 million goal and completed the campaign two years ahead of schedule. Auditions are in process to fill the final positions to raise the complement to 88 full-time musicians.

“The Musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra are pleased that respectful and productive negotiations resulted in this new contract,” said Daniel Laufer, chair of the Atlanta Symphony Players’ Association, in a statement. “This agreement is another important step forward in solidifying the financial foundation necessary to support the artistry of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.”

Laufer went on to thank Jennifer Barlament, ASO’s executive director, and her senior leadership team, as well as Howard Palefsky, board chairman of the ASO, for making a positive difference during these negotiations.

“We are also very appreciative of the anonymous donor who so strongly believes in the ASO musicians and understood the importance of continuing to restore the compensation package,” Laufer added.

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Robert Spano conducts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Photo by Jeff Roffman for the ASO)

Reflecting a renewed sense of collaboration and trust between musicians and leadership, the negotiation process was conducted quietly over the last several months with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players’ Association, led by Laufer (Associate Principal Cello), vice chair Paul Murphy (Associate Principal Viola) and attorney Kevin Case of Case Arts Law LLC; and a team representing the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra that included Tom Kilpatrick of Alston & Bird; Barlament; Susan Ambo, ASO CFO; Russell Williamson, personnel manager;  Palefsky; and Doug Shipman, CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center.

“I am extremely pleased with the process and the outcome,” Barlament said in a statement. “The team approached this negotiation in a remarkably collegial and collaborative manner, working together towards an achievable compromise that offers both artistic progress and financial sustainability.

Barlament continued: “The entire ASO team, from the musicians to the artistic leadership to the Board and staff, have together risen to the challenge of moving the Orchestra to the next phase in its evolution so that we can continue to reflect Atlanta’s growing international profile. In addition, it provides stability to further serve Georgians, and bolsters our ability to attract creative, forward-thinking musical artists.”

Palefsky said that in order to come to this agreement, it was necessary to take a leap of faith.

“Our ability to afford this agreement depends on the support of generous patrons and donors,” Palefsky said. “We have seen strong growth in earned revenue with Atlanta Symphony Hall LIVE, Movies in Concert, the Family and Holiday Series, and we far exceeded our attendance expectations for the Delta Classical Series.”

But Palefsky stopped short of declaring victory.

“While these are important milestones, there is still work to be done,” Palefsky said. “We will need the support of the Atlanta community to continue to build and strengthen the institution. We are encouraged by the extraordinary progress that has been made in a relatively short time, we are grateful for the faith and support that have been placed in the ASO, and we invite the community to join us in supporting this institution.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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