Labor Council chief asks Board of Supervisors investigate
San Francisco Symphony accounting practices
January 26, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO -- Today Tim Paulson, Executive Director
of the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO, asked the San Francisco
Board of Supervisors to investigate the San Francisco Symphony's
The Symphony's Musicians have been working without a contract
since November 26, 2005.
In a letter sent today to the Supervisors, Paulson said: "Because
the Symphony relies on taxpayer dollars, I am writing to ask the
Board of Supervisors to investigate the Symphony Management's
refusal to use its endowment for the Musicians and its creation
of illusory deficits."
Text of letter follows.
The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, members of the
American Federation of Musicians Local 6, have been negotiating
in good faith with the Symphony's management for ten months, and
have been working without a contract since November 26, 2005.
The San Francisco Labor Council stands in solidarity with the
The San Francisco Symphony is one of the most financially healthy
orchestras in the country, with an endowment of over $174 million.
Its conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, is paid over $1.5 million
annually for his part-time work.
Despite the Symphony's steady financial growth, the Symphony'smanagement
is proposing a contract that would place San Francisco's Musicians
below their colleagues in other leading orchestras such as Los
Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and New York, and on par
with what the financially troubled Cleveland Orchestra pays its
I am concerned about the Symphony management's accounting practices,
which it is using to bolster its contention that it cannot support
the Musicians at the level of other top-tier orchestras:
(1) Management Won't Use Endowment For Musicians. Management
is directing contributed funds into the endowment and is claiming
that this money is somehow walled off. A significant portion of
this money is "Board designated," meaning the donor
did not specify that the money go to the endowment. In total,
over $113 million of endowment money is categorized as "unrestricted."
As such, there are no legal prohibitions against management doing
what the Chicago Symphony has done and using a very small portion
of a very large endowment to support the Musicians.
(2) Management Creates Illusory Deficits. The Symphony's
management reported surpluses from fiscal year ending August,
2001, until fiscal year ending August, 2004. Six months into the
labor negotiations, in August of 2005, management suddenly reported
its first deficit ($2.4 million) to the operating budget in five
years while concurrently adding $15 million to the endowment.
In short, management created an illusory deficit during 2005 --
which happened to be a contract-negotiation year.
Because the Symphony relies on taxpayer dollars, I am writing
to ask the Board of Supervisors to investigate (1) the Symphony
Management's refusal to use its endowment for the Musicians and
(2) its creation of illusory deficits.