9/26/08 Press Release

September 29, 2008 at 5:08 pm | Posted in Press Release | Leave a comment

Sept. 26, 2008 Contact: Todd Jelen

MEDIA ALERT tj7118@yahoo.com

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

May Mark Season Start with a Strike

Madison may soon get an unwanted first — its first orchestra strike.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its musicians have undertaken 11 meetings during nine months of talks. The musicians have met the board’s negotiators with lawyers, and without lawyers. They have met with a federal mediator present. However, because few of the foundational issues impacting the negotiations have been addressed, the group’s first 2008 Masterworks concert, scheduled for Oct. 3, may be the first WCO concert ever canceled by a strike.

The musicians assert the board’s demands would remove many basic protections from the musicians. “We don’t take a strike lightly,” said Todd Jelen, negotiating committee chairperson. “We lose salary if we’re on strike, and our audiences lose highly anticipated performances. But if we accept the changes the board proposes, the very integrity of the institution is eroded.”

For instance, a major sticking point has been the board’s demand to greatly expand its capacity to terminate any musician for any reason, rejecting the necessity to prove “just cause” when firing a player. Similarly, the board has refused to reinstate any of the approximately 15 players the previous contract removed from union protection. The result is that many of these musicians, some of whom have played with the group for 25 years, earn half as much as union musicians for the same service.

According to Jelen, many of the remaining contract issues deal with the special sacrifices made by the top-flight musicians the WCO has been able to draw, musicians who are part-time and often commute considerable distances for the WCO’s limited schedule. For instance, for the 25 percent of the group’s musicians who travel over 100 miles each way for a concert, the WCO board would offer a maximum of $46 for round trip travel expenses. And once they arrive, all the WCO’s out-of-town musicians subsidize the orchestra’s operations in other ways, because they all have to pay for their own lodging and meals. The WCO board continues to insist that WCO musicians must commit to perform 90 percent of services offered, rather than 50 percent that is common with similarly structured orchestras. This presents serious ongoing conflicts with the musicians’ other employment endeavors, which the WCO board has heightened by proposing to eliminate the music director’s ability to relax that requirement in cases where he thinks it may be justified.

If no agreement is found, the first concert to be affected will be the Oct. 3 performance, which is scheduled to feature violinist Kyoko Takezawa.

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