For the second time in history, the members of the Utah Symphony are on strike.
The strike vote came toward the end of a two-hour meeting late Wednesday in Symphony Hall, following months of negotiations. The exact tally was not disclosed, except to note that more than two-thirds of the orchestra's 83 musicians voted to strike. Their previous contract was due to expire at midnight.Former Gov. Scott M. Matheson, who heads the negotiating team for the musicians, acknowledged that he and his colleagues had recommended the strike, "basically because we had made no progress at all since we submitted our proposal last May on the economic side." Former Gov. Calvin L. Rampton, representing the management of the orchestra, said he was "disappointed" in the outcome of the vote. "We thought they would elect to play and talk." Rampton added he would need to confer with people on both sides before further talks were held.
Initially the musicians had sought a 20 percent salary increase over a year's time. When the management rejected that offer in the face of annual deficits and a dwindling endowment fund, Matheson said, "we came back with a three-year proposal with a heavier payout the third year to kind of get them over that hurdle, but that was not accepted."
By contrast, the management had proposed cutting the orchestra's season from 52 weeks to 46, four of which would be paid vacation. According to management officials, the upshot would be a 5 percent increase in the musicians' weekly paycheck but a 5 percent decrease in annual salary.
"There's no animosity here," said symphony board chairman Deedee Corradini. "We understand the orchestra members' desires and wants, but we can't make promises for money we don't have." Between 1987's $1-million deficit and last October's stock market plunge, she said, the endowment fund has dropped from around $5 million to $3.5 million, eliminating whatever cushion that might have provided.
"At the same there's only so much money we can raise on an annual basis in this community and we think we're pretty close to that. Based on our analysis of the situation, even if we maintained the status quo with no increases in wages, expenses or revenues, we could be out of business in three years."
Currently musicians' salaries account for $3.3 million of the orchestra's $5-million budget. However, as the players are quick to point out, the current base pay of $28,080 a year is well below what orchestras with smaller workloads are commanding elsewhere.
"We recognize the symphony is in a difficult financial position," said violinist John Thompson, a member of the negotiating team and chairman of the orchestra committee. "We feel, however, that the solutions they've proposed would mean the death of the orchestra." In addition to the proposed salary cuts, he cited the elimination of gains the players had made in working conditions on their last contract, "like some of the restrictions on ballet and opera performances and some of the provisions for overtime pay."
"So the disagreement now is not simply about salaries - it is about the ability of the Utah Symphony Society to sustain itself at the artistic level we have already achieved."
"I've never seen the musicians so fed up as they are right now," observed another member of the orchestra. "Obviously we don't expect to get what New York and Chicago get (currently $52,000 a year). But Indianapolis, with a 50-week season, is now getting $32,000 and Milwaukee, with 46, gets $33,000. It's like they want us to go back to being a community orchestra."
Just hours before Wednesday's vote, Corradini invited the musicians to a meeting where she could further explain the board's position. Thompson said members of the negotiating team were not invited and they advised their members to boycott the presentation. Reportedly less than a third of the orchestra attended.
The symphony's previous strike occurred in 1983, at the beginning of music director Joseph Silverstein's first season. It lasted five days. This year's subscription season is scheduled to begin on Sept. 16, preceded by a benefit concert for both the orchestra and the Sundance Institute Sept. 9.