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Fort Wayne Philharmonic, musicians still working toward new labor contract

Friday, October 4, 2013 - 12:01 am

Union musicians with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic plan to take their case to the public again Friday by providing music and information during the lunch hour downtown at One Summit Square.

A brass quintet will entertain as other musicians pass out leaflets thanking the public for their support of the orchestra and explaining the musicians' position on signing a new contract and moving forward.

Musicians also passed out leaflets at the orchestra's concert last Saturday at the Embassy Theatre.

No contract talks had been scheduled as of mid-day Thursday, but Philharmonic President and CEO J.L. Nave III said he hopes negotiators for both sides can meet next week.

The musicians are members of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Players' Association, the contract bargaining unit represented by American Federation of Musicians Local 58 in Fort Wayne.

Both sides will continue to operate under the terms of their previous four-year contract, which expired Aug. 16, they said.

Musicians have given their negotiating team the authority to call a strike, but they aren't putting a time limit on the negotiation process, said Campbell MacDonald, media spokesperson for the Philharmonic Players Association and the Philharmonic's principal clarinetist. The orchestra's next scheduled concert is Brahms Symphony No. 4 at 8 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Embassy Theatre.

“We're interested in doing what's right for the organization and helping to move them past the financial problems,” MacDonald said.

Musicians have offered to take a 12 percent pay cut temporarily and to help the orchestra with fundraising to get it back on a solid financial foundation, MacDonald said.

Last week, Philharmonic leadership proposed a contract reducing musicians' workweeks to 32 weeks per year from the current 40 weeks, a cut of about 20 percent in musicians' annual base salary of $27,221.60. The Philharmonic's proposal also called for musicians to pay an extra $3,276 annually for family health insurance coverage.

Rather than makes cuts to the Philharmonic's artistic product, musicians believe they and the Philharmonic board and administration should work together to raise more money, MacDonald said.

“We want to be part of the solution,” he added.

Unaudited results for the fiscal year that ended June 30 show the Philharmonic finished with a deficit of $950,000, Nave said. The orchestra budgeted for an operating deficit of $670,000 last year, but ended further in the red at $780,000. A $170,000 noncash, accounting adjustment on the value of a trust fund gift pushed the final deficit figure to $950,000, he said.

Combining that with deficits from past years, the Philharmonic currently has an accumulated deficit of $2.3 million, Nave said.

Musicians have said the Philharmonic has declined in recent years to pursue major fundraising campaigns to address its deficit.

Nave said the orchestra is always raising money because it generates only about 26 percent of its revenue from ticket sales. A recent, unexpected, $200,000 donation from the Madge Rothschild Foundation did allow the Philharmonic to re-examine its contract offer to musicians, he said.

But it isn't sound fiscal policy to count on unexpected gifts, Nave said. So Philharmonic leadership is focusing on three areas — ensuring the orchestra has sufficient operating cash flow, operating on a break-even or better basis going forward, and paying down the debt.

For the past few months, board members also have been discussing undertaking a major fundraising campaign, Nave said. However, they want debt reduction efforts to take place separate from the new labor contract with musicians.