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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

Toledo Symphony musicians approve salary, benefit cuts

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC

Toledo Symphony announced today that musicians have ratified a three-year contract effective immediately that calls for a total 5 percent reduction in salary and benefits. Musicians have been performing without a master agreement since July 1.

The organization, which had a deficit of $400,000 on an operating budget of $5.9 million during the 2003-2004 season, seeks to reduce expenditures by 5 percent during the current season.

Belt-tightening is essential to the orchestra's solvency, said Toledo Symphony board chairman, Richard P. Anderson.

"The orchestra committee has structured an agreement that is clearly mindful of the Toledo Symphony's financial realities. The quality of cooperation among musicians and administration was exceptional throughout the negotiation process, evidence of a relationship built on trust," Mr. Anderson said.

Toledo Symphony's financial problems are endemic across the industry, with even the major orchestras feeling the pinch.

Philadelphia Orchestra musicians recently negotiated a contract that called for a one-year moratorium in salary increases along with more concert and service obligations. Pensions are frozen in Cleveland and Chicago.

Almost every major orchestra is looking to increase revenue by providing more educational events.

The problem in Toledo is that, short of budget cuts, there was little left to give.

The orchestra has already reduced its size to the bare minimum required for the standard repertoire; rehearsal time has been cut by some 20 percent.

The orchestra outreach programs, which include educational events and dozens of neighborhood concerts in area churches, are packed.

Balancing the current season's budget will be touch and go. Success is dependent on increasing earned income by 5 percent through ticket sales, matching last year's achieved Annual Fund donation goal of $1.56 million, and taking an 8 percent draw from the orchestra's endowment, which stands at $12 million.

The new contract calls for a 1.25 percent reduction in musician salaries in the first year, followed by 2 percent annual increases in the second and third years.

Reductions of 50 percent come in the areas of travel time premiums, mileage, meal per diems, and recording premiums.

The agreement also includes a matched administrative reduction of pension benefits from 3.25 percent to 1 percent, as well as the elimination of instrument maintenance stipends.

Base salary for the 44 members of the core orchestra is being reduced to approximately $24,000 during the current season, though salaries are significantly higher for first-chair players and those with seniority.

The administrative staff is in the second year of a pay freeze.

Despite the hardships, both players and administration are pleased with the agreement.

"The discussions have been transparent and financial information was shared with the musicians," said percussionist and orchestra manager Keith McWatters.

"The orchestra committee took the initiative to work through the numbers and understand the financial realities. They saw themselves as a key solution to the problem," he said.

Contact Steven Cornelius at:

scornelius@theblade.com

or 419-724-6152.



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