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Cleveland Orchestra musicians strike over contract

7:04 PM, Jan 18, 2010   |    comments
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The bargaining teams had not met since Jan. 6 and the orchestra has been working without a contract since August.

Federal Mediation Director of Field Operations Jack Buettner and Commissioner Laura Shepard are helping with the talks.

The Orchestra's 101 members went on strike at midnight Monday over money and, they claim, a wish to preserve the Orchestra's world-renowned elite reputation.

"This is a sad day. We don't want to be on strike," said orchestra member Jonathan Sherwin.

A contingent of striking orchestra members rallied outside of their Severance Hall home in University Circle and distributed handbills, explaining their case to the public.

They did not brandish picket signs out of respect for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Otherwise, visitors to a free Severance Hall open house would have had to cross the picket line.

The orchestra claims it needs a financially responsible outcome because ticket sales and donations are down and its endowment has suffered great losses.

It is offering members a three-year deal, featuring a five percent cut the first year, a five percent restoration the second year, and a two and a half percent raise the third year.

The union has offered to take an eight-month pay freeze. The orchestra's base average salary is $115,400 dollars. That ranks seventh in United States among symphony groups.

The union says it has made sacrifices already, now sharing the costs of health care and risks of an undefined benefit plan.

"If we accept the current offer to us, we believe it will be the beginning of the end of the international reputation of The Cleveland Orchestra. We're at the tipping point," the union's brochure states.

But not all Severance Hall visitors are sympathetic in a city and region where many are out of work or under-employed. Many say the strike is the wrong move at the wrong time.

Young violinist Farima Harris said, "They should play because they love it, not for the money."

Joyce Bihary said, "I'm unemployed. I wish everyone was back to work. (The orchestra) is not one of the necessities people feel."

The orchestra's conductor Frans Welser Most and Executive Director Gary Hanson have taken big pay cuts.

Hanson said," We have every reason to believe that, with mediation, good will, and good judgment, we will prevail at the bargaining table."

If not, orchestra members will man picket lines with picket signs starting Tuesday.

In March, the orchestra said it would reduce pay, leave six positions unfilled and scale back artistic initiatives to save money.


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