Despite Season Saving Gift, CSO & Musicians Far Apart

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A six-figure anonymous donation was made to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra so the show can go on until May. While that’s good news for many, including the CSO’s board and musicians, the stalemate between the two shows no improvement.

Until recently the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, which has been in a financial slump for some time, was not sure it would be able to finish out its winter season which ends at the end of May. But the CSO received what it’s calling a six-figure anonymous donation that will help the orchestra continue to play. CSO board president Buzz Trafford said,” The motive for this donor is so that we keep the good will of our subscribers and ticket purchasers because we’re looking at the long term future of the symphony. Unfortunately that long term future is going to be dependent on reaching an agreement with the musicians’ union.

In January the board proposed cutting the number of full-time musicians from 53 to 31 in an effort to save money. The remaining 22 musicians would work part-time and receive a lower salary. The cuts would save the symphony $2.5 million – reducing the operating cost from $12 million to $9.5 million. It was at that meeting that several players walked out.

In the last month, union president Doug Fisher says musicians have met with the board seven times. He says they get nowhere in their talks. But if there’s one thing the board and musicians can agree on it’s they can not agree on a budget. Union president Fisher said, ” It’s really not so much a negotiation; it was more of a dictation. And we have yet to see any indication from the board that they are willing to negotiate in good faith. It appears that so far they’ve only been willing to repeat their $9.5 million number and issue ultimatums.

Last week the union rejected what it called the board’s final offer. Last week’s proposed contract would slash salaries by 40 percent – from an average of about $55,000 to $33,000. Trafford says the board never denied that is a significant reduction. But he says it was an offer the musicians called for, “I think one of the things that’s gotten lost here a little bit with respect to the board’s proposal of last week is that that’s a proposal the musicians asked for, it wasn’t the kind of proposal the board wanted to make.

But Fisher disagreed,”We absolutely did not ask for our budget to be cut 25 percent. And we absolutely did not ask for our annual salaries to be rolled back to the position they were in 16 years ago in 1992. I think that most working professionals in central Ohio would agree that accepting a 40 percent annual pay cut would be simply untenable.”

Traffrod says the board is trying to do everything it can to keep the symphony together. He says they are willing to negotiate any place and any time. But he says it can not promise to pay what it can not afford.

Fisher says he agrees that some kind of compromise needs to occur, but he says he does not think the board and musicians will come to one on their own.

It seems to me that we really need help at this point. And the best thing we can do is to mutually agree upon a management consultant to come in here, someone respected who knows how to run an orchestra and help us deal with this problem,” said Fisher.

But Fisher says so far the board has not agreed to bring in a consultant.

Since the cuts were proposed in January, four of the symphony’s high-profile musicians have left on leaves of absence. The union says others are looking for work elsewhere.

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