Strike averted; Philharmonic management, musicians agree to temporary terms

rcopley@herald-leader.comSeptember 19, 2013 

The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra's management and musicians effectively called a time-out on their contract negotiations Thursday afternoon and are going on with Friday night's concert.

Musician committee chair Dave Shelton said that while musicians remain concerned about a number of issues in the negotiations, "a slim majority voted to give the discussions a chance. We are confident future discussions will yield a fair agreement that protects the job security of musicians and increases the degree to which we can provide full-orchestra concerts to the audience that we love."

Philharmonic board president R. Scott King said, "It gives both parties an opportunity to put something in place for now. What might be overlooked is it also gives us the opportunity to really take a breather, step away from the table; there's a lot of wounds that occur, particularly in a process as long as ours."

Contract negotiations had been going on since April 2012 and reached a crescendo in the past week, when musicians voted to authorize a strike. The American Federation of Musicians, which represents the Philharmonic musicians, announced the orchestra would strike Friday night's season-opening concert if terms could not be reached by showtime.

On Thursday, the musicians and management agreed to a temporary memorandum of understanding that will revert to the 2008 contract on many issues on which the parties could not agree. That memorandum will be in effect through June 30, 2014, taking the Philharmonic through the entire 2013-14 season. Talks on a new long-term agreement will resume after Jan. 1, 2014.

The Philharmonic's management and its union, Local 554-635 of the American Federation of Musicians, renegotiate their contract every four years.

Chief points of contention this time around include management's desire to scrap a peer-review process for demotion and dismissal of orchestra members, the musicians' move to require a set and growing number of full-orchestra concerts of 60 musicians or more, and a management clause restricting orchestra members' ability to play in other orchestra-like ensembles in Central Kentucky.

Shelton and others on the musicians side said the peer-review process and related job security was the primary issue, as peer-review affords them a forum for appeals.

The newest ripple in the back-and-forth over the contract is the musicians' vote of no confidence in music director Scott Terrell, who has been with the Philharmonic since 2009.

Shelton said that the vote has been misinterpreted as an attack.

"Our hope is any honest communication between the parties can only produce a better working relationship," Shelton said. "This being the opinion of most of the players on the stage, it would only seem to help if management were aware of this."

Philharmonic executive director Allison Kaiser said Terrell was not available for interviews regarding the contract situation, and that he is approaching the situation professionally.

The contract that was being negotiated was the first since Terrell became the orchestra's music director.

Nathan Kahn, a negotiator for the American Federation of Musicians, said strikes can have varied results.

"In strikes that have gone on a long time, it can take a while for audiences to come back," Kahn said. But he said he's seen some situations where audiences backed the musicians and followed them back into the concert hall when the strike was resolved.

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes.

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