Detroit musicians strike days before new season

Mon Oct 4, 2010 6:30pm EDT
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DETROIT (Reuters) - The 80 members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra went on strike on Monday after rejecting a contract that would cut their base pay by about a third just days before the new season is set to start.

The musicians, many of whom picketed in front of the orchestra hall for two hours on Monday morning, were slated to rehearse on Monday for still-scheduled performances this week.

The two sides last met with federal, state and local mediators on September 24, but didn't reach an accord. There are no meetings scheduled between the two sides and it is likely that this week's concerts will be canceled, said Haden McKay, a cellist and spokesman for the musicians.

Symphony management declared an impasse on September 1 and cut the base pay of its orchestra veterans from $104,650 to $70,200. Musicians had offered a 22 percent cut to $82,000 with a promise of recovering some of that lost pay in later years.

Musicians would also be expected to do more outreach in the community, such as public speaking or volunteering in schools.

McKay said the cuts coupled with the loss of pension and health benefits would thwart top musicians from coming to Detroit and may hurt one of the top symphonies in the country.

"Talent follows money," McKay said. "Detroit needs symbols of things around the world that aren't just images of decline or difficulty."

But the orchestra also faces a yawning budget deficit in a city that has seen the sharp decline of the auto industry and 15.7 percent unemployment in the metropolitan area.

"The musicians are fighting for artistic excellence for the DSO and we wholeheartedly join them in this fight but there can be no artistic excellence without viability," the executive board of the symphony said on its website Monday.

(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)