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Detroit Symphony goes on strike

From Stephanie Gallman, CNN
  • Symphony musicians in Detroit, Michigan, have been on strike since Monday
  • They don't want pay cuts to be as deep as board desires
  • Symphony says it needs major cuts to survive

(CNN) -- Members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra have gone on strike over a substantial pay cut, raising doubts about several scheduled performances, including this Friday's season opener.

The musicians walked out Monday morning, saying they would not agree to a 33 percent pay cut. They had countered with a 22 percent salary reduction.

The orchestra's board is willing to meet the musicians, but no negotiating sessions are currently scheduled, said symphony spokeswoman Elizabeth Twork. "There is no reluctance on our side to meet," she said.

No concerts have been canceled.

The Detroit Symphony is grappling with a financial crisis similar to those that have shut down or curtailed other orchestras in recent years.

It accrued a $3.9 million deficit in 2009 and would face a $6.5 million deficit without changes to the three-year contracts, Twork said Tuesday.

Without the changes, "we can't survive as a business, there is no way," she added.

Under the current contract, the base starting salary for a musician is $105,000 with nine weeks of paid vacation. The new contract would change that base salary to $70,000, with an increase to $72,000 in the second year and $73,000 in the third year, with three weeks of paid vacation.

Haden McKay, a cellist with the DSO, said the board also wants pension and benefit cuts.

The quality of the orchestra would suffer with cuts of this magnitude, McKay said, adding it would have a tough time recruiting new members.

"Detroit is, fortunately or unfortunately, one of the best symphonies in the country, and therefore we compete with talent in other big cities with acclaimed symphonies," said McKay. "Under their proposal, DSO would be out of the running in competition for talent."

"We can move numbers around, but there's no real change in their offer," McKay said.

Unless an agreement is reached, the sounds of Schumann, Bruch and Berlioz will not be heard Friday night.

"We hope the Players will be realistic as negotiations progress, that a hurtful, lingering strike can be avoided, and that together -- musicians, board, and audience -- we will once again make and enjoy the majestic music that has come to be the signature sound of the DSO," the board of directors said in a statement.