Friday, October 19, 2012

Trouble at the Symphony

Posted By on Fri, Oct 19, 2012 at 4:26 PM

The Spokane Symphony and its musicians appear to be at an impasse over contract negotiations.

Despite a balanced budget last year, the Symphony is looking to pay its musicians less, according to a press release from the musicians' union. In recent contract negotiations, the symphony proposed $15,132 salaries, down from $17,460.

"Those of us struggling to cobble together a living wouldn't be able to do that [under the proposed contract]," says Adam Wallstein, the orchestra's timpanist and leader of the committee negotiating for a new contract.

The musicians are paid a set salary per year under a maximum number of "services" — times they play, rehearse or do Symphony-related educational events.

Symphony Executive Director Brenda Nienhouse says the symphony isn't able to schedule enough performances and events to use up that maximum — 180 times a year for the orchestra's most essential musicians — so it's paying for more time than musicians are actually playing.

"What we're offering is the same per-service amount," Nienhouse says. "We happily pay for services we can use."

In today's economy, with many one-time gifts propping up the Symphony's budget, the non-profit's board has to "be a good financial steward," Nienhouse says.

But Wallstein isn't buying it. One-time gifts will always be the lifeblood of non-profits, he says, and it's the Symphony's job to schedule more shows and make more money. He wouldn't give specific figures, but he says the musicians aren't asking for a pay raise. They just can't take the cuts the symphony wants.

"We remain quite willing to go back to the table," he says. "I'm still optimistic."

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Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...