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Published: Monday, 4/4/2011

Detroit Symphony Orchestra, musicians reach tentative agreement to settle 6-month strike


DETROIT — On the six month anniversary of the walkout by Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians, management and union bargainers said Monday that they have reached tentative agreement to end the long strike.

The deal, which was reached after a weekend of lengthy talks, is subject to a ratification vote this week, said musicians' spokesman Greg Bowens. If approved, he said Detroit Federation of Musicians union members with the nationally acclaimed but financially struggling orchestra could be back at work by this weekend.

Bowens and orchestra spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt said details of the terms weren't being immediately released. Rehearsals are to resume Thursday in advance of concerts this weekend.

"As we return to our home, I'm confident that the artistic product will continue at the highest possible level," symphony Musical Director Leonard Slatkin said in a statement. "There is much to be done, but the DSO will emerge a healthier and stronger institution."

Bowens said the tentative contract is the first that the musicians' negotiators "feel they could take back to the members," Bowens told the Associated Press.

In dispute was how deep a pay cut the musicians would have to take to help the struggling symphony balance its budget.

Even before the strike, the orchestra had seen its donations fall, endowment shrink and ticket sales soften as the state's auto industry shed jobs and plants and experienced bankruptcy reorganizations. The walkout has left the orchestra in worsening economic shape.

Drew McManus, a Chicago-based orchestra management consultant, said he hopes it's not too late to mend fences after a contentious strike that officially reached the six-month mark Monday. He said it will be difficult to build trust if the deal was reached "as a result of pressures designed to break spirits and minds."

"In politics, you know it's a game — ultimately, no matter what you say you eventually have to work together," McManus said. "That's part of what is attractive and repulsive about politics. In the orchestra business ... it is too personal."

Seeking to reduce costs, management implemented a 33 percent base pay cut for orchestra veterans in September, from $104,650 to $70,200 in the first year. Musicians had offered to take a 22 percent reduction in the first year, to $82,000. Musicians' salaries would have risen in subsequent years.

Both sides have since made counter offers to narrow the divide.

Musicians walked off the job Oct. 4. Management suspended the remainder of the current season that was to have run through June 5 in February after musicians rejected a contract proposal that was dubbed a final offer by management.

Musicians had said they were given a deadline of last Friday to settle the strike or face losing the summer performance season and jeopardizing the fall season. But talks continued through the weekend, running for about 17 hours on Saturday and continuing for about 10 hours on Sunday, Bowens said.

"There's been a lot of effort put into trying to reach an agreement," Bowens said.

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