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Jacksonville Symphony Locks Out Players, Cancels Concerts

By Matthew Westphal
19 Nov 2007

The management and musicians of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra reached an impasse in contract negotiations last week, leading to the cancellation of five scheduled performances of the classic musical The Music Man this past weekend in Florida's largest city.

This is a dispute with a difference, however. Almost invariably, when a labor disagreement leads an orchestra to cancel concerts, it is because the musicians have gone on strike; this time, management has locked out the players even though they were willing to continue performing.

"They [the musicians] did not go on strike," Jacksonville Symphony Association executive director Alan Hopper told the city's Financial News & Daily Record. "We are not locking the doors. We have suspended operations and pay."

Yet when the orchestra's musician's showed up last Tuesday afternoon (Nov. 13) for a scheduled rehearsal, they were not allowed into the building and the performances for which they were to rehearse had already been called off, according to the city's main daily newspaper, the Florida Times-Union.

The Jacksonville Symphony's previous contract with its players expired in August, though the musicians continued to perform under the old agreement and had evidently made no threats of walking out.

Management had presented what it said was its final offer to the musicians on Monday (Nov. 12). The five-year contract proposal included no pay raises for the first two years (with annual increases of 2.04%, 2.42% and 3.07% thereafter), a cut in management's pension contributions from the current 7% of salary to 3%, a reduction by half in paid personal leave (eight days to four, increasing to six in the final two years), elimination of extra pay for playing and maintaining a second instrument (e.g., flute and piccolo or bassoon and contrabassoon), and a sharp reduction in guaranteed days for part-time musicians.

The musicians' union — which had proposed a three-year contract to allow the Symphony administration and board time to stabilize the organization's finances — rejected management's offer, objecting in particular to the cuts in pension contributions and guaranteed work for part-timers. Union spokesperson Kevin Casseday told the Times-Union that the management proposal could reduce the annual compensation of some part-time players from $30,000 to less than $9,000.

The Jacksonville Symphony has 52 full-time musicians and roughly 15 part-timers. Base salary for the full-timers is $38,036, with the average being $43,660. Their season is 37 weeks annually, with 20 hours of rehearsals and performances per week.

Jim Van Vleck, chairman of the Symphony Association's board of directors, told the Times-Union that the orchestra has accumulated a debt of $3 million and run deficits in eight of the past ten years. In addition, this year the city of Jacksonville reduced its annual support for the orchestra by almost one-quarter, and other government funding is thought to be at risk as well.

"We are trying to build a model based on predictable revenue and not based on expenses," executive director Hopper told the Financial News & Daily Record. "We can't base our ongoing budget on expenses."

"We can't commit to growth in a contract that we can't meet," he added to the Times-Union.

Casseday, the union spokesperson, pointed out that the Jacksonville area has grown considerably in recent years and suggests that the orchestra's administration and board should ramp up fundraising. "We feel the capacity of the Jacksonville area has grown so much," he told the Financial News, "we shouldn't be going backwards."

Board chairman Van Vleck, who is a former International Senior Vice President of the Mead Corporation, told the Times-Union, "I really do respect our musicians, but there's something about a 37-week year and 20 hours a week that doesn't seem too onerous."

The Jacksonville Symphony's next scheduled performances — "Music of the Eagles" next Sunday (Nov. 25), a classical subscription program Nov. 29-Dec. 1, and the annual presentation of The Nutcracker Dec. 7-9 — have not yet been cancelled. Hopper said that Nutcracker would go on with recorded music if the contract issued had not been settled by then. The Music Man has been rescheduled for the weekend after Memorial Day.




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