Fischer Joins Talks as Orchestra Impasse Continues, Opera Performances in Question

by Gabe Bullard on August 25, 2011

The ongoing contract negotiations between the Louisville Orchestra musicians and management could affect other arts organizations.

Both sides are unable to come to an agreement on the size and season length of the orchestra. This week, all concerts were canceled for September and October.

That puts upcoming Kentucky Opera concerts in question. The opera performs with musicians from the orchestra and a spokeswoman says the company is working with the union to put together a temporary agreement for shows next month. General Director David Roth has promised there will be live performances in September. The Louisville Ballet is not affected. Directors decided earlier this year to use recorded music rather than live accompaniment.

If the impasse continues, even more orchestra performances will be affected. A 60-day advanced notice has to be given for cancellations.

“We’ll have to look at November concerts in early September. The deadline is sort of within a very short window in early September,” says orchestra CEO Rob Birman.

Both sides are in mediation and are meeting with Mayor Greg Fischer this week. Fischer met with management today and will meet with the players tomorrow afternoon. A spokesman says the mayor won’t comment on the labor talks until he’s heard from both sides.

The management is seeking to assign musicians to different tiers, and sign each tier to a different-length contract. The musicians have rejected this.

“People are being asked to go from 37 weeks down to 10 weeks,” says musicians committee chair Kim Tichenor. “Some musicians are being asked to take that large of a pay cut. Going from $34,000 a year to $9,000 a year with a huge cut in benefits along to go with it is not a competitive wage.”

Tichenor says the players have offered to cut the season length from 37 to 35 weeks and the number of full time musicians from 71 to 60. But management says that’s unaffordable.

“What we’re saying is that our best offer that we can possibly imagine is the tiered system we have put on the table,” says Birman. “Everything is still subject to negotiation, we can’t decree the future. But that is the best offer we can possibly come up with.”

Both sides say they welcome the mayor to help, but the musicians would also like an industry professional to consult.

The management contends six official orchestra concerts have been canceled. The musicians cite a draft schedule to say 17 total performances, including some educational shows, have been called off.

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