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Detroit Symphony Heads Into Last-Chance Negotiations

DSO, players to conduct last-ditch talks on Friday

Detroit Symphony Orchestra management and players have scheduled an eleventh-hour negotiating session Friday morning in an effort to settle a rancorous contract dispute before a potential work stoppage.


Friday looms as a deadline day. Although the players authorized a strike in late August as their contract expired, they haven't walked off the job because of a labor law technicality that obligated management to pay them through Thursday. The two sides have not met since Aug. 27.

Both DSO President Anne Parsons and musician spokesman Haden McKay credit a federal mediator, Michael Nowakowski, with jump-starting the talks. However, with both sides far apart and communication at an ebb, Parsons and McKay each struck a cautionary note Tuesday about the chance that Friday's session would quickly resolve the conflict.

"I have never lost hope, but the only way we are going to get a deal is if we negotiate, and the only way to negotiate is if we meet," Parsons said.

McKay said, "We've said that we'd go back to the table if we saw movement, and we haven't seen any leading up to this meeting. If you're asking me if I think it's a great sign, I don't have that feeling yet."

Players and management have been at odds over steep pay cuts and work rule changes. Management's proposal leaves base salaries for veterans at $73,800 in three years, 29% lower than the $104,650 they make today.

Management also has proposed expanding the job of the players to include not only performing orchestral concerts but also chamber music, teaching and other outreach duties -- work they now get paid extra to do, though some players volunteer their time.

The musicians offered a 22% reduction in the first year but demand base-pay increases to $96,600 in year three, 8% less than they make now.

Management says that the pay cuts are needed to keep the orchestra solvent, and that redefining the players' jobs would create a more entrepreneurial institution. The players say pay cuts of such magnitude without some recovery by the third year would permanently downgrade the DSO from its top-tier status by making it impossible to attract and retain the best players.

They also say that the work rule changes, unprecedented among major orchestras and created with no player input, would dilute the prestige and professionalism of the DSO and are unreasonable in the context of such extensive salary reductions.

Management could implement the terms of its final offer on Friday, which could push the players to strike. Or the players could say they were being locked out. The first concert of the season is not scheduled until Oct. 8.

Parsons declined to say what course management would pursue if Friday's talks were unproductive. McKay said if management implemented a new contract, the players would "take stock at the end of the day."


By Mark Stryker