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Philharmonic union OKs strike

Opening night still a go as sides talk to close deficit

– Amid ongoing contract negotiations, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s musicians union voted unanimously to give their bargaining team the authorization to call a strike if the executive board continues to propose an unbalanced budget.

The Musicians of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic announced that the Philharmonic’s current budget proposal would reduce the musicians’ base salary from $27,221 to $16,408 and reduce the number of 44 full-time musicians to 27 in an effort to reduce the orchestra’s deficit of more than $2.3 million. In addition, the Philharmonic has proposed reducing the work week from 40 hours to 32.

The committees for both parties met for seven hours Thursday to continue deliberations, but no agreement was reached.

J.L. Nave III, president and CEO of the Philharmonic, would not comment Thursday on the specific conditions of the current proposal.

“Negotiations can go in many different directions. My focus is continuing to talk and reach a mutual agreement,” he said. “We are certainly not going to let it affect the collaborative nature of negotiations.”

Two days shy of the Philharmonic’s opening night, Dennis Fick, the Orchestra Committee chairman, said the musicians will continue to rehearse and perform for Saturday’s performance. With negotiations ending Thursday evening after no headway was made, the focus turns back to opening night, he said.

Nave said the committees will reconvene as soon as both sides are available.

After Thursday’s meeting, Fick said a strike isn’t imminent but remains a possibility.

“We didn’t move anywhere, and we’re stuck. So absolutely, it’s a possibility,” he said. “The lack of progress is disappointing. I like to be the optimist, and I will choose to be an optimist here, but we can’t accept the offer on the table, and they did not show a lot of movement. It does not bode well.”

Fick said that under the current proposal, musicians would be required to take a 40 percent to 70 percent pay cut, plus pay significantly more in health care costs.

“Half of the budget is for the artistic product – that’s the musicians on stage, the conductor, guest artists. Half of the budget is for support operations, including concert production, marketing, fundraising and administration. They proposed cutting the artistic budget by about 31 percent, and they proposed cutting the support side by 10 percent. We have an unbalanced situation,” Fick said.

Although the musicians’ four-year contract ended in August, negotiations began in April because of the orchestra’s financial concerns. The Philharmonic continues to run a deficit, which has already accounted for the orchestra cutting the choral chamber series in May.

Fick said the musicians are aware of the orchestra’s financial concerns and have made a number of concessions that could have saved the orchestra thousands of dollars.

Fick said the musicians agreed to forgo a 2 percent pay increase that was in the now-expired contract and three weeks of summer pay in exchange for the development of a plan that would include marketing, audience development, a public fundraising campaign and a vision of the future that maintains the quality of the orchestra and its service to the community.

The union states it would have saved the orchestra $150,000. Fick said that the executive board thought it would not be successful in public fundraising.

“What we asked for in exchange was a plan for the future and fundraising, and they just didn’t think they would be able to engage in fundraising at the time,” he said. “We weren’t willing to just offer the concessions without something in return.”

Nave said the executive board remains open to fundraising strategies and having musicians join in the effort.

“There needs to be a strategy to approach (fundraising). I think that for it to be successful, there needs to be a solid strategy to get it accomplished,” he said.

During current negotiations, the musicians’ union has offered to help with public fundraising and to cut musicians’ income by 12.5 percent, a concession the union states would save the Philharmonic $250,000.

“We musicians are very much concerned about the financial conditions of the Philharmonic, and we have demonstrated many times our willingness to step up to help, but we’re not going to do this by ourselves,” Fick said. “They need to meet us halfway. So far, we haven’t gotten to that point.”

Nave said all conditions are still up for deliberation, and nothing has been set in stone.

“We negotiated all day today (Thursday). There’s a lot of give and take. I believe both sides are still committed to reaching a mutual agreement,” he says. “They are still committed and we are still committed. It doesn’t get any more collaborative and hopeful as that.”

Nave said the strike authorization does not change the course of the negotiations, and he hopes the audience does not lose focus on the music.

“It’s a very fluid situation. We want what’s best for the organization, and the musicians are a central part to the organization,” he said. “I’m really pleased the musicians echoed our sentiments on having a great opening-night concert – this is why we do what we do. We hope people come out and support our orchestra.”

Despite the disagreement on the current proposal, Fick said there is no deadline in place for a strike as long as both parties can work on an agreement that is satisfactory to the musicians.

“Our objective is always to go to work. We want to work, we like working. We like what we do, we like playing music, we like playing for people who like to come out and listen to us, and we like getting paid,” he said. “We’re professionals, and this is what we do for a living. Like any other working person, when facing cuts of 40 to 70 percent, we have to ask ourselves whether this is a fair deal.”