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Friday, March 15, 2013

Sundry Views of the SFS Strike

People have different views, you might say, of different aspects of the strike.

Here's Kalimac, on the one hand, relieved he's not reviewing the Mahler 9, on the other hand, supportive of the players on principle. I'm pro-labor myself, and I believe musicians should be compensated like the highly-skilled pros they are. (In answer to his questions, yes, I do know what Brent Assink and MTT make.) But striking over what looks like a few thousand a year (see Janos's article today) when the orchestra is in great shape financially, playing well, etc. just seems....counterproductive. I have some comments elsewhere on this blog about why the practice space issue might not be easy to solve. I do agree that all things considered, orchestras should make every effort to accommodate musicians who can't just take their instruments home on MUNI.

Over at A Beast in a Jungle, John Marcher was copied on an entertaining rant. The line about Mark Inouye made me laugh.

7 comments:

calimac said...

In answer to my questions? My questions weren't addressed to you. They were addressed to "anyone minded to say that musicians earning $150,000 a year are coddled and pampered whiners," which, thankfully, isn't you. All you're criticizing the musicians for is the tactical undesirability of striking at this time and manner and thus encouraging cretins like that.

Like, for instance, the cretinous rant you link to, by someone clueless enough to think that the fact that CEOs are grotesquely overpaid across the board is some sort of meaningful response to the complaint that musicians aren't getting the gravy and administrators are.

This cretin has also bought the administration's revealing non-response to David Herbert. His complaint is over management's uncooperativeness. Their response is to point out how much salary and vacation time he gets. But more money and more vacation time don't compensate for a disagreeable work environment. It's foolish to think that throwing more money at an unhappy worker will solve workplace problems.

(Your own comment is that arranging for practice space can be tough. David Herbert already responded to that in his original complaint: he says management is acting like part of the problem, not part of the solution.)

John Marcher said...

Dear Calimac,

I'm the "cretin" you've judged so self-righteously and I would like to correct you about what I have and haven't bought into. First, I haven't bought into the premise that just because Joe gets paid $X for playing with "Y" orchestra, Joan should be paid as much or more because she plays with "Z." It's a bullshit premise. If Joan doesn't like it she can go play with Joe, or David Herbert, who is fully within his rights to accept a better offer. But it's graceless and crass to badmouth your former boss on one's way out the door, especially when that boss made what they felt was a good faith offer to keep you.

I also don't by into the idea that what management and administrative personnel make is relevant to what the musicians earn or deserve. The musicians, left to their own devices, could not organize themselves into a group that would provide a single one of them with anything remotely close to the living and earning potential they enjoy as Symphony musicians. I also haven't seen any effort to lift the boats of the rest of the organization, and I doubt the great majority of the 100+ people who are non-musicians employed by SFS are co pensated anywhere near what the musicians get. Are they less deserving of sharing the wealth because they aren't "the talent"? Someone had to actually record and sell those recordings which won all those Grammies you know- the musicians didn't do that by themselves. It takes the entire organization to succeed, and I bet no one works harder or puts in as much time as Assink does, whom I see at every single concert I attend.

But you go ahead and keep drinking that Kool Aid you bought in the late 60s.

calimac said...

It's telling that you think that a civilized society, with workers receiving fair compensation for their labor, a vision which, applied to American society, dates not just to the New Deal of the 1930s but to the Progressives and was even applied by that great capitalist Henry Ford, is "Kool Aid you bought in the late 60s." How flaky is that? Do you still fulminate over Jane Fonda visiting Hanoi, too? And then you accuse me of dumping on the symphony's other employees. If I really were a hippie communitarian, I'd be advocating a co-op in which everyone from ticket-taker to music director would have the same salary.

Of course the leaders and organizers are worth more. The question is, how much more? The crime of top-executive compensation is the rising imbalance between it and everyone else's compensation, a problem of much more recent origin than the 60s. Maybe you should read the labels on some of the Kool-aid being handed out at the Occupy meetings a couple years ago; you might learn something.

As for the marketers and all, they're worth their wages too. They should be unionized, too, and if they feel they're mistreated and underpaid, they should have the right to strike as well.

And as for your vision of musician employment as a free market in which everyone just jumps to the highest bidder at any time, that's inimical to great art. An orchestra is not just a hundred musicians, it's the entity they form when they've learned to work together and make a coherent group. Too much change of personnel too fast in a successful group ruins the purpose they've gathered for. Any player is free to leave on expiration of contract; management's job is to persuade them not to go if it won't improve the ensemble. And here's another hint from the distant shores called reality: if David Herbert is as PO'd as he says he is, what he was given was not a good-faith offer.

John Marcher said...

I'm sorry Calimac, I really would like to let you have the last word, but this isn't about fair compensation for the musicians one bit and no one has claimed it to be- this is about parity with other orchestras and sharing the perceived wealth, and the problem is not solely with the musicians, but I think it is certainly the musicians and their representatives who are behaving poorly in this situation regarding the timing of the strike and the rhetoric being used.

I don't think everyone should jump to the highest bidder, but it is their right to do so. As for Herbert specifically, I do not know what took place during tho those negotiations, do you? Do you know what he was offered and turned down? Maybe he just wanted too much and felt it was his due to get it. Who cares? He will be replaced, and soon remembered as little more than the guy who went to Chicago for more money. He is far from indispensable- just like Buster Posey, for that matter.

You can prattle on without me now, since I think you want to make this personal and I'm really not willing to get into a pissing contest with someone I don't even know.

calimac said...

But fair compensation = parity and sharing the perceived wealth. (And they "perceive" it because of how it's being distributed to higher-ups.)

Whether the musicians used bad tactics is another issue, unrelated to fairness and justification.

I myself noted it is everyone's right to jump to the highest bidder; but it is not, in this case, in the orchestra's best interests if they do so. If they do, management isn't doing an important part of its job well.

I'm going on what David Herbert said his problem was; see an earlier post on this blog. It wasn't a problem of monetary compensation, but monetary compensation is what he was offered. Maybe he's lying about what his grievance is, but I have no reason to think so.

It's possible that he'll be replaced smoothly and without a hitch, but it's not likely, based on any knowledge of the difficulty of filling top orchestra positions and the amount of getting used to new colleagues and their style that needs to go on at the top level of orchestra playing. Various silly commenters on SFGate have been saying things like, "Oh, just hire a bunch of new graduates from Juilliard; they'll be fine." That's profoundly wrong.

("Personal"? I want to make this personal? Who wrote "self-righteously" and "drinking that Kool-aid"? Try watching your own words if this upsets you so.)

Lisa Hirsch said...

He says drinking Kool-aid, you say cretinous. As far as whether either of you is personalizing the discussion, I'm calling it a draw.

I've been out most of the day, will read the comments carefully to see whether there is anything I would like to respond to.

calimac said...

Well, he's the one who's complaining about it.

As for whom I was calling "cretinous," I didn't think it was him. I was going on your description of "John Marcher was copied on an entertaining rant," emphasis added. That implies he didn't write it, but then he took credit.