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Detroit Symphony Orchestra musician to go on Strike October 4th

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians announced Saturday they would go on strike Oct. 4, a move that threatens the start of the season and throws the financially beleaguered institution into more turmoil.

The strike would be the first at the DSO since 1987 and comes in the wake of a long and bitter battle over salary and benefit cuts and work rules. The union has also filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The strike is scheduled to begin on the day of the first rehearsal.

At the heart of the conflict is a fight over how to ensure the future of the DSO without irreparably harming artistic quality. The DSO has been wrestling for years with an annual structural deficit as high as $7 million, and leaders project a $9-million loss this year.

Management has proposed reducing base pay for veterans about 30%, from $104,650 to $70,200, rising to $73,200 in three years. The players offered a 22% initial cut to $82,000 with increases to $96,600 in year three, 8% less than they make now.

After a failed eleventh hour negotiating session Friday conducted with federal, state and local mediators present, management leaders declared an impasse and began to implement the terms of its last contract offer. The move forced the players into calling a strike, said cellist Haden McKay, spokesman for the musicians. DSO president Anne Parsons said she was disappointed by the players' decision.

The players cast their decision to strike as a battle for the artistic soul of the orchestra, while management defends its position as rooted in the financial reality of metro Detroit.

The musicians say that accepting such steep pay cuts without some recovery would doom the DSO — whose pay has historically ranked in or near the top 10 of American symphonies — to second-tier status. They say top players would leave and it would be impossible to attract replacements of equal talent.

"I've never seen a situation when the orchestra was so much in peril," clarinetist Doug Cornelsen, a 40-year DSO veteran, said earlier. "The board is comprised of powerful people, and if they wanted to find some way to keep this orchestra where it's been, they could find a way."