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Musicians Reject CSO's "Final Offer"

The stalemate between Columbus Symphony Orchestra's musicians and its managers does not appear to be budging. Thursday musicians voted to reject the CSO board's newest contract offer that would slash salaries by forty percent.

"I've been through many negotiations over the past ten years and this is by far the strangest and most bizarre," Musicians' union president Doug Fisher said.

That's Fisher's reaction to how the CSO board is working its negotiations with its players. Fisher said the board made its final contract offer to which all 53 musicians voted to reject. "We don't know what the board will do in reaction to our vote. However, they did state this was their final offer implying they will not entertain any additional offers from the musicians," Fisher said.

Fisher said in his experience final offers are made closer to the end of a current contract - in this case that's at the end of August. The union said the board's newest offer would cut salaries by 40 percent. So a musician currently making the minimum annual salary of $52,000 would make $33,000.

CSO board chairman Buzz Trafford said the board is willing to continue discussions with the musicians union. But he said the musicians want a contract with speculative revenues, and he said this rejection sets them back.

"We have been working since January to try to come up with a basis for the orchestra to not only complete this season but to move on to the next season and thrive thereafter and this is not helpful," Trafford said.

Fisher said economically, Columbus is just as strong, if not stronger, than Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Pittsburg where symphonies there have budgets two and three times that of Columbus.

"We're not really sure why Columbus is having such a hard time supporting a $12 million orchestra," Fisher said. But Trafford said the money just is not there.

"The musicians simply refuse to accept that there's a limit to what the community can support. And they refuse to accept that the limit is probably $9.5 million. That's the number that the board believes, based on recent history, can reliably be raised to fund the musicians' compensation," Trafford said.

The CSO board has said without a major compromise from the union on a new contract the symphony might not be able to finish its season. Trafford said that's something board executives will discuss tonight and possibly over the weekend.

Fisher said as long as the orchestra is in operation musicians will play until the end of their contracts. But he said many players are looking for other work.

"We simply need a much more stable environment to practice our art and raise our families," Fisher said.

Also, Fisher accuses the CSO board of not being a good advocate for the orchestra.

"The problem is that our board has failed to identify and solicit and gain the trust of major donors both in the private sector as well as the business community. And we believe that that's why the symphony is in the financial situation that it's in," Fisher said.

Trafford said symphonies all over the country face similar financial situations like the CSO, and he said it's unfortunate that the musicians' union personalizes the negotiations.

"That is disappointing to a group of people that volunteers their time and gives freely of their money to support the orchestra," Trafford said.

Earlier the board proposed cutting the number of full-time musicians. Four high-profile players have left, and Fisher said there's risk of losing more. But Trafford said as far as he knows the four musicians that have left are on leaves of absence. He said they have not cut all ties with the CSO.

Fisher said the union is looking at all possible options to save the symphony. One of those options Fisher said is seeking the help of the Columbus City Council and the mayor's office.