Sunday, May 25, 2003

Orchestra musicians get part of pay

Action by debt-ridden Ky. board leaves players feeling flat

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Louisville Orchestra musicians received an installment of their overdue paychecks Friday, hours before completing a spring concert season lacking in financial harmony.

The orchestra, facing an $800,000 deficit this year, paid its musicians, conductors and administrative staff 70 percent of their paychecks that were due May 15.

"Obviously, there is relief to be getting the partial payment," said Timothy Zavadil, a clarinetist and the musicians' spokesman. "But we're still wanting to have the big problem solved, which is making sure that payments are made in full and on time for the remainder of the contract."

Orchestra spokeswoman Jennifer Maxwell said there was no indication when the remainder of the May 15 paychecks would be paid.

The orchestra missed the April 30 pay period as well but eventually paid the musicians and others in two installments in May, Zavadil said. Each of the biweekly payrolls totaled about $170,000.

It marked the first time in the orchestra's 65-year history that it was unable to meet its payroll obligations, Zavadil said.

Strains between the musicians and orchestra board overshadowed the concert season. The board asked musicians to accept a 5 percent pay cut and a four-week reduction in the orchestra's performance schedule to help rein in the debt. The musicians balked, saying it amounted to a 17 percent pay cut for the duration of the contract, which expires Aug. 31, 2005.

At the height of the dispute, musicians skipped a couple of rehearsals and one Louisville concert was canceled. Many players showed up at an unemployment office in concert attire to file for compensation. The musicians' attorney accused the orchestra board of engaging in an unfair labor practice in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board.

The musicians returned to work in part after the board agreed to grant leaves on short notice for musicians offered short-term jobs. The musicians said they needed such flexibility to help them pay their personal bills while awaiting full payments from the orchestra.

Base pay for the orchestra's 71 musicians averages $33,000 a year.

Zavadil did not report any headway Friday in the negotiations between the board and musicians to ease the orchestra's financial problems.

"We're just being told that they are making their best efforts to get the payments to us as soon as they can," Zavadil said.

Orchestra board president Phil McHugh did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

A meeting is being planned to discuss the orchestra's financial woes and is to include a special assistant to Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson, said Allan Cowen, president of the local Fund for the Arts. Representatives for the musicians and the orchestra board also will attend.

Zavadil said the musicians would like to review allocations to the orchestra from the Fund for the Arts, a nonprofit group that supports a broad range of cultural institutions in Louisville.

Zavadil said the musicians have seen statistics indicating that the Fund for the Arts' support for the orchestra in recent years hasn't kept pace with the fund's overall revenue growth. If it had, the orchestra would not be saddled with debt, he said.

Cowan said the musicians are "simply incorrect" because the players looked at just part of the equation in the fund's giving to the orchestra.

The Fund for the Arts raised $7.6 million in the current year, and the orchestra received nearly $1.7 million - the largest allocation, he said. In 1995, the Fund for the Arts sent $986,000 to the orchestra, he said.

The Fund for the Arts' support this year also included a one-time $225,000 allocation intended to reduce the orchestra's deficit, Cowan said. However, the money didn't go for debt reduction because of the orchestra's day-to-day financial problems, he said.

Zavadil said the musicians have been heartened by the community's response to the orchestra's financial woes.

"Our audiences have been very supportive," he said. "I think all parties involved are very hopeful that this can be resolved."

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