Symphony, musicians miss contract deadline

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The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's management and musicians failed to reach a new contract before their current deal expired Sunday night, and the parties aren't expected to meet again until mid-September.

The two sides did not resume negotiations after a bargaining session extended into Thursday evening.

"I really don't know what's going to happen," said Richard Graef, chairman of the ISO musicians' negotiating committee.

The union has balked at management's push to cut back musicians' 52-week contracts to 38 weeks, among other budgetary moves.

Jackie Groth, the ISO’s interim CEO, and John Thornburgh, chairman of the board of directors, told IBJ on Friday that the organization would continue operating year-round but would use outside artists for some performances, much as it does the last few weeks of its Symphony on the Prairie series every summer.

ISO executives said they want to reduce musicians’ annual pay by 40.8 percent and cut the orchestra's size from 87 positions to 69.

The job cuts, which Groth and Thornburgh hoped would happen largely through retirements and normal attrition, would occur mainly from string instruments. The ISO would use lower-cost contract musicians to replace eliminated positions.

Graef, a French horn player in the orchestra, said Sunday that the musicians’ union on Thursday evening proposed a one-year contract, with the intention that the two sides would use the extra time to agree on a longer-term deal.

That proposal called for more than $1.4 million in savings, the same amount musicians had previously proposed in the first year of a five-year agreement. Graef said management did not respond to the union's proposal by the 11:59 p.m. Saturday deadline set by musicians.

Legally, the two sides could have agreed to extend the 2009 agreement and operate under its terms until reaching a new pact. But there was no such extension.

Negotiators can’t meet again until mid-September, Graef said.

ISO spokeswoman Jessica Di Santo stated in an email:  “The ISO simply cannot continue to function under the last contract. Our management team cleared its summer calendars, offering more than 30 dates in order to work through these difficult issues."

“Unfortunately," she continued, "musician representatives offered far fewer dates, most of them in the last two weeks of August—bumping right up against the expiration of the contract. While the ISO was willing and open to negotiate through the weekend, regrettably the musicians were not. Thursday, Aug. 30, was the last day the musicians' union agreed to be available, and we met.”

Management last week gave the union until Sept. 7 to accept the steeper cuts. Otherwise, the ISO said it would cancel the first two weeks of its season and provide exchanges to anyone who purchased tickets.

Groth said Friday that the ISO issued the ultimatum because it did not want to move forward with concerts without knowing whether there would be musicians on the stage.

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