Utah Symphony and Opera Players Turn Down Final Contract Offer

Classic Arts News   Utah Symphony and Opera Players Turn Down Final Contract Offer
After three months of negotiations, Utah Symphony and Opera musicians have turned down management's "last, best and final" labor contract proposal in a 64-8 vote, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

Under management's offer, musicians would receive a 3.5% raise in the first season, 3% in the next two, and an additional 0.5% raise resulting from modified working conditions. Also considered was an agreement with a 4% raise plus the 0.5% from working conditions in the first year, with future raises pending later negotiations.

"Their final offer - after four years of no pay increases - doesn't even cover inflation for one year," said Joe Hatch, the musicians' union lawyer. "All we're asking for is to be treated decently."

The musicians want a 5% first-season raise, which Hatch called not "budget-busting" considering the agency's $17.5 million budget.

Management's 4.5% and 4% raise offers result in increased annual operating costs of $301,500 or $268,000, respectively, leading the US&O to an operating deficit in spite of a projected 10% and 12% increase in donations and ticket sales, respectively.

In their previous contract, musicians agreed to a three-year salary freeze to help the orchestra cope with its two-year operating deficit of $3.4 million. Considering inflation, Hatch told the Tribune, a 12% raise would be required to compensate for the four-year, fixed salary period the musicians have just finished.

At a minimum rate of $57,720 annually, US&O is among the lowest paid U.S. orchestras with 52-week seasons.

"The Utah Symphony has always been - to use a silly metaphor - the little engine that could," said violinist David Gray Porter. "We're not such a little engine anymore. Utah's a pretty big state, with a healthy economy. And if we're going to remain that paragon of artistic excellence, then we're really going to have to invest in musicians' salaries."

"Everyone recognizes these are not extravagant numbers," US&O interim CEO David Green said. "I've worked for the orchestra for the past 14 years, and this is difficult for me because I have the greatest respect for the musicians. I would commend them for doing everything they could to come down to our number."

The orchestra's season starts September 14, but Hatch remains positive about avoiding a strike. "We would never, never strike for wages. If we would have struck for raises, we would have done it a long time ago.

"Our position is, they've made a final offer and shut down negotiations. We are still willing to talk anytime."

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