It has become a staple of nearly every new labor dispute involving an American orchestra: the strike-focused website and social media campaign. Musicians are increasingly turning to the Internet in the public relations battle, arguing their case in blow-by-blow web, Facebook and Twitter updates – even as orchestra managements often take a more measured approach.
The latest example involves the San Francisco Symphony, whose musicians went on strike on March 13, forcing the cancellation of a three-city East Coast tour, including two dates at Carnegie Hall.
This weekend, the musicians' website featured an open letter to fans, “to express our deep frustration and disappointment at our management’s cancellation of our East Coast tour.” It goes on to say that the musicians are “deeply saddened” and “heartbroken,” about the cancellation, adding, “performing at Carnegie Hall, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Kennedy Center is of the highest honor for our orchestra.”
The letter concludes by reiterating the musicians' case and asking East Coast fans for their support and understanding.
San Francisco management has its own website dedicated to the labor dispute, Sfsfacts.org, whose last update, on March 17, criticized the musicians for rejecting a federal mediator's proposed "cooling off period" in order for the tour to continue.
The main issue in the strike involves pay. Management has asked for a salary freeze for the first year of a three-year contract, with one percent raises in the two subsequent years. The musicians say this is unacceptable given many signs of prosperity for the orchestra including raises and bonuses for the top executives. Symphony officials contend that the musicians would have remained the third-highest paid orchestra in the U.S. under the latest offer.
Meanwhile, online debate between the musicians’ supporters and detractors has intensified. On Friday, Bloomberg columnist Manuela Hoelterhoff issued a broadside against the San Francisco musicians for “sulking,” and being tone-deaf to the difficult financial climate for orchestras. This prompted a heated response from Brian Lauritzen, a host at KUSC in Los Angeles, who argued that musicians “deserve to be paid like the superstars they are,” adding, “they do not deserve public ridicule at the hands of a misinformed writer.”
A spokesman for the symphony said it is working through a federal mediator to determine next steps in negotiations.