ISO asking for fewer concessions, sets Saturday deadline

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra executives have given musicians until 6 p.m. Saturday to decide on a contract offer that asks for significantly fewer concessions than previous proposals.

Musicians, however, are balking at a an escape clause in the deal that would let either side out of the five-year contract after three years.

The symphony and the musicians are in a labor dispute that led to musicians being locked out Sept. 8 and all scheduled performances since that time being canceled.

Under the new offer, the ISO still would cut a few weeks out of the performance season and reduce musicians’ pay. But the cutbacks are less severe than the plans negotiators revealed in August, according to details ISO management released late Monday.

The ISO said it would have to substantially increase fundraising efforts to pay for the new proposal.

“The August 30 offer was predicated on substantial fundraising and revenue goals that the ISO was committed to stretch to achieve,” ISO management said in its Monday night statement. “This offer is well beyond that stretch."

In the first year of the proposed five-year deal, musicians’ minimum annual pay would drop by about one-third, to $53,000 from $78,000, then rise each year until it hits $70,000 by the fifth year.

In an an Aug. 30 proposal, the ISO sought a pay cut the first year to $46,170 and an increase to $47,500 by the contract’s end.

The pay cut would come from reducing the number of weeks musicians are paid for every year.

Currently, the orchestra receives 52 weeks of pay and performs 45.5 weeks a year. Management’s latest proposal calls for 38 to 42 weeks of performances with musicians only receiving pay for those weeks.

Weekly pay would increase to $1,667 from $1,500, the ISO noted.

The orchestra would have 74 musicians under the proposed contract. The ensemble currently has 72 performers, the organization said. The previous contract, signed in 2009, calls for 87 total positions.

Management has written a clause into its proposal that would allow either side to terminate the agreement after the third year.

Richard Graef, chairman of the union’s negotiating committee, said the musicians had previously heard the terms in the new offer and turned them down due to the inclusion of the escape clause

“The ‘contract termination clause’ makes it impossible for us to agree to the Society's ‘we win-you lose’ proposal,” said Graef in a prepared statement. "It establishes a situation in which [management] has no incentive to raise the funds, and every incentive not to do so and then pay the musicians less.”

ISO management said it would reinstate salaries and health benefits back to Sept. 3 if the musicians agreed to the contract by Saturday's deadline.

“The ISO is willing to make this offer contingent on achieving a contract by Saturday to avoid further concert cancellations and the decline of community support if this dispute continues," the statement said. "The offer is contingent on additional funding.”

The organization, which has reported multimillion-dollar annual deficits since the recession, has cancelled the first four weeks of its season.

Some donors have expressed concerns about the symphony's future if it goes from full-time to part-time status. The ISO is one of only 17 full-time orchestras in the nation.

The ISO’s most recent proposal heavily relies on increasing donations.

Executives previously told IBJ they want to raise current donatiion levels of about $6.5 million annually by about $2.5 million per year, an increase of nearly 40 percent.

Managers and board directors now want to increase donations by 50 percent to 100 percent to make the latest contract proposal financially sustainable.

The group's goal is to bring in $9.8 million in the contract’s first year and reach $12.6 million—almost double the current average—by the fifth year.

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