10/10/08

Shreveport previews Barackonomics

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Musicians on strike, work stops

Despite an ongoing musicians' strike, the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra board is hopeful that there will be an opening show for its 61st season. Neither side has spoken to each other since the strike began last week, but the back-and-forth between both sides continues.

"The orchestra is ready to move forward with the musicians and service patrons by performing on Oct. 18. and thereafter," said Bobby Gilliam, symphony board attorney and spokesman said they are still working toward an Oct. 18 show, but he said they want to emphasize that if the show doesn't happen it will be rescheduled, not canceled.

"However, to accomplish that we need cooperation from the musicians such that they will honor the labor agreement and the individual written commitments they made in July of this year to play for this season. We're open to discussions on proceeding with that performance."

However, musicians' spokesman and principal trumpet player Rick Rowell said don't look for the musicians to be there.

"We will not be performing, unless there is some progress between the two sides," Rowell said.

In the latest developments, Thomas F. Lee, president of the American Federation of Musicians officially notified Local 116, the musicians' union, that effective Thursday, the symphony has been placed on the International Unfair List.

As long as that designation is in place, AFM members are not to work for the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra and the orchestra will not be allowed to list vacancies in the union's publication, The International Musician, regarded as one of the standard sources for information on orchestral openings.

Gilliam said the announcement doesn't change the board's position. "We've been negotiating for nine months in good faith, meeting our commitment and obligations and we ask that the musicians do the same," he said.

In regards to the strike, Gilliam maintains that the musicians did not follow proper procedure as outlined in the contract to begin a strike. "After they made a written commitment, there's been no complaints, no grievance, no written notice of any type from the union. Right now our position is that they're in an improper, illegal strike."

Musicians notified symphony executive director Scott Green of the strike by phone Oct. 2.

Christopher Durham, the musicians' lead negotiator on behalf of the American Federation of Musicians, has said that the signed individual contracts Gilliam referred to only maintains the musicians' employment with the organization, but does not bind them to the contract, also called a collective bargaining agreement.

"We don't have what we call an 'agreement' because we haven't agreed to anything. Both sides declared an impasse and the board implemented the final offer," Durham said. "Had we had a true agreement which both the union and the employer mutually agreed to and signed, then, yes, we would have had to file a grievance if a dispute arose, but that's not the case here."

Durham said the musicians would end the strike if certain terms are met.

"What the musicians have maintained is that they would continue the contract under the terms from the 2006-07 season," Durham said. "Last year, we proposed a one-year extension and ultimately that's where it ended, but at this point, the best thing that would need to happen is that it remains status quo and the institution sit down with an expert in the field of symphonic industry and learn how to run the business properly.

The musicians announced the strike last week in protest of the board's implementation of the collective bargaining agreement which switches core or full-time musicians to a per-service pay structure.

The new structure results in a 75 percent pay cut, from $12,693 to $3,123 for the 2008-2009 season and the elimination of 24 full-time core positions as of Sept. 1.

Management has insisted such change is necessary to alleviate financial instability which has plagued the organization for nearly a decade, including an accumulated loss of more than $700,000 in 2001.

Neither side has spoken to each other since the strike. A federal mediator, Commissioner Glen Reed, of Baton Rouge, who's participated in earlier talks and negotiations from previous seasons, has been brought back to help facilitate discussion between the parties.

However, his role is only to monitor and assist negotiations when called upon.

"We're not a regulatory agency. We don't tell parties what to do. We only offer assistance where the party is needed," he said.

Reed said because of his role he would not offer any details on the status of the negotiations.

Meanwhile, the symphony's 61st season hangs in limbo. "If the musicians choose not honor the agreement and appear, it appears we will have to cancel that performance and make other arrangements for the rest of the season. Those plans have not yet been determined," Gilliam said.

(shreveporttimes.com)

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