The Charleston Symphony Orchestra musicians voted earlier this week to reject the terms of the Interim Operating Agreement (IOA) presented to them by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors. According to a written release from the CSO Players Association, the IOA called for an 84 percent salary reduction to a base annual salary of $3,600 next year. Although CSO reps claimed that they had not yet been made aware of the proposal’s rejection, they stated that they are “very disappointed and saddened for the entire Charleston community.”

“This proposal was never intended to extend beyond 12 months. The proposal would have provided each musician with health benefits, pension plan contributions, and a monthly salary for the next 12 months beginning May 1, 2010,” said Marty Klaper, chairman of the negotiating committee for the CSO Board of Directors in an official statement. The new proposal provided for monthly performances from the musicians for the next eight months and also provided additional compensation for the principal musicians for added performances during that time, according to the CSO statement.

The rejection is only the latest twist in a feud between the players and CSO dating back to early April, when the Board notified the Charleston Symphony Players Association of their decision to cut short the current season, which would have run until May 2. Instead, the remaining performances were canceled and musicians were told their health coverage would end on April 30. The musicians have previously agreed to less drastic salary reductions of 11.4 percent in 2008-2009 and a 17.1 percent reduction for 2009-2010. Their average wages this season were $18,888.

After the cancelation, musician representatives filed a lawsuit against the CSO with the National Labor Relations Board. According to the lawsuit, the CSO violated the National Labor Relations Act, their collective bargaining agreement, and federal law. The proposal rejection and the lawsuit are two separate issues, according to Players Association spokesperson Ryan Leveille. “Even if we had accepted the proposal, the unfair labor practice charges would have remained,” says Leveille.

The 2010-2011 season, which was to celebrate CSO’s 75th anniversary, already appeared to be in a precarious position after the cancelation of the April performances. Apart from financial concerns, CSO and the Players Association have both identified internal issues with the orchestra. A report released in 2008, titled “In Harmony,” identified a lack of leadership in the CSO, in part due to the absence of an executive director and development director. The Players Association agrees, and, according to their press release, the CSO hasn’t implemented any of the suggested changes from the report.

Despite the cancellations, the musicians continued to perform in the Charleston area. Additionally, players will perform during Spoleto, including their usual performance at the Customs House on May 28 and the Piccolo finale on June 12, although none of these performances have been, or will be, under the name of Charleston Symphony Orchestra.

Leveille says he hopes for a face-to-face meeting soon. “Our hope would be that they’d appreciate the near-unanimity of the rejection and would see that as cause to come forward with a more reasonable proposal.”

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