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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Symphony musicians strike after talks fail

Tonight’s SuperPops at Fox canceled

Amid an ongoing contract dispute, musicians with the Spokane Symphony picket outside the Fox Theater Saturday night. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Amid an ongoing contract dispute, musicians with the Spokane Symphony picket outside the Fox Theater Saturday night. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

The show won’t go on – at least not tonight.

Musicians in the Spokane Symphony Orchestra are going on strike amid an ongoing contract dispute.

The union representing the musicians announced Friday they will strike beginning at 5 p.m. today. As a result, tonight’s SuperPops performance was canceled.

Both sides said they’ve made compromises, and both accused the other of being stubborn.

“It is with regret that I must announce that after an additional day and a half of intensive bargaining where the symphony made significant compromises that they felt would bring the sides to an agreement, the musicians have halted the negotiations and called for a strike,” Peter Moye, symphony board president, said in a statement. “It is disappointing that the musicians have chosen to withhold the performance from their audience.”

The musicians have continued playing since the contract between the Spokane Symphony Society and Musicians Local 105 of the American Federation of Musicians expired Aug. 30. Negotiations had been ongoing since March. The symphony imposed a contract on the musicians in October that included cuts of more than 13 percent, reducing pay to about $15,130, according to the union. The union offered to take nearly 7 percent in cuts.

“We reached a point where it was clear that they weren’t willing to make substantial movement on the key issues, so we felt we had no other choice,” said timpanist and orchestra negotiator Adam Wallstein. “We offered significant, painful concessions to our salaries. They did not budge from their final offer on that count.”

In addition to the pay cuts, union representatives opposed what they call a restrictive leave policy that would inhibit the musicians’ ability to pursue other employment opportunities. Many of the musicians have outside jobs, such as teaching.

But symphony officials say their hands are tied by tough economic times.

Since 2009, the symphony’s annual operating budget has gone down 13 percent, according to symphony officials. The equivalent of eight full-time positions have been eliminated. They also say the administration has taken cuts and voluntary furloughs and donated back vacation time to help maintain musicians’ pay.

“It’s the position of the board that we will not run deficit budgets,” Moye said. “In the past few years we’ve been really, really lucky that we’ve had some angels out there. But you can’t budget angels every year. Until the economy picks up and ticket sales pick up, we need to live within our budget.”

The musicians’ contract was last negotiated in 2006. They are paid an hourly rate of more than $43 and must work eight 2.5-hour performances over 38 weeks of the year, according to the symphony. The symphony’s offer would continue pay at the same hourly rate but for fewer “guaranteed services,” which include concerts, rehearsals and educational events.

“That’s pretty misleading,” Wallstein said of the wage. “The only coherent way to understand our employment is to see us as salaried employees because we do most of our work off the clock practicing for our upcoming performances.”

Symphony officials say that because of an agreement in the 2006 contract, musicians were getting paid for work they aren’t doing. In that contract, musician compensation was based on a guaranteed number of services, but some plans were curtailed with a downturn in the economy and ticket sales.

“We are not cutting the hourly wage,” Moye said. “We are just cutting the services. We can’t run a tight ship when we’re paying for services that are not being used.”

The value of those unused services, according to the symphony, was between $120,000 and $180,000 over the past three years.

Wallstein said unused services are really untapped resources the symphony should be using for more fundraising and community outreach.

Both sides said they hope they can find a compromise and resume performances soon.

“We hope to find a compromise that both sides can live with,” Wallstein said.

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