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Musicians, Symphony Mired At Square One

November 22, 1986|HILLIARD HARPER | San Diego County Arts Writer

SAN DIEGO — Despite the appointment of a state mediator, no formal talks between the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Assn. and its locked-out musicians have been held for 22 days.

When the symphony last week canceled its winter concert season, the two sides remained about $500,000 apart over wages and differed over a proposed package of changes that would give the music director greater artistic control over the orchestra.

At the time the cancellation was announced, symphony Executive Director Wesley O. Brustad indicated that one positive effect of the action was to sweep away previous impediments to an agreement.

"It's a whole new game," Brustad said. "Obviously, with the cancellation of this season, anything that was on the table--from our side and I would imagine from either side--has to be looked at differently."

So far, the symphony has made no new offers. Asked why, symphony spokeswoman Nancy Hafner said Brustad was "taking a careful look at the numbers."

"He's taking a careful look at the situation," Hafner said. "I think both sides are aware that if there is a resolution by Dec. 31 it would allow for scheduling part of the 1986-87 season." Hafner was referring to a proposal last month by the symphony to mount a "mini-season" in March if an agreement is reached by Dec. 31.

In October, Jack Bates, a federal mediator, offered his services to both sides, and the symphony association attorney suggested using the mediator's services to help break the deadlock. But Bates was rejected because neither side knew his work, union attorney Liza Hirsch DuBrul said. Instead, a local state mediator, David Hart, was selected, DuBrul said, because "both my client and (symphony attorney) George (Howard) knew Hart."

Hart has been out of town recently because of a death in the family. But DuBrul and Howard said they recently had been in touch with him.

DuBrul said that asking for a mediator does not mean the symphony is willing to move from its position.

"If management really wanted to make a deal we would not need one," she said. Sometimes the services of a mediator are suggested, she said, only to give an impression that one side is "trying hard to make an agreement." DuBrul repeated an often-voiced belief by musicians that the association does not intend to stage a concert season.

Solomon responded, saying, "(DuBrul) is a professional negotiator who specializes in negotiating for unions against symphony orchestra associations throughout the country."

Solomon denied that the symphony association presented proposals knowing that the players would find them unacceptable.

"There's no logic why we would not want to have a season," he said. "We're in the business to perform. If we have a season or not, it's in their hands. That's all we can afford to pay. Even if we do (what the symphony had proposed), it would be adding a $700,000 deficit on top of an $877,000 deficit. Whether the city is going to have music is in the hands of the musicians."

The presence of a mediator is no guarantee that a settlement is eminent.

"We try to get the parties together jointly or in separate caucus as a facilitator," said Bill Haehir, the presiding mediator in Northern California. "Sometimes we try to meet two or three times a week. There are some times, to be perfectly honest, in which . . . we have to back off some" to allow the parties breathing space and time to reconsider.

"We usually outline the disputed issues, then break them into separate caucuses. We try to get a feel for the issues from both sides and . . . whether there's a different way of doing something.

"Then we get down to money."

Before the cancellation, the symphony wanted the musicians to take a pay reduction that was based on cutting the season to 39 weeks from last year's 45. For the 20 musicians who are paid at the minimum wage, that would mean a 10.6% drop in salary despite a proposed $20-a-week increase in pay. For other orchestra members, the proposal would amount to a 13.3% pay cut.

Without a season, the symphony may have more flexibility to improve its proposals. Brustad can use the talents of his new marketing director to help shape a season and an advertising campaign that might attract larger audiences.

However, over the last two years, income from tickets and concessions has jumped significantly, yet the symphony still lost more than $2 million in that time. Brustad has steadfastly maintained that the key to financial stability is raising the level of contributed income: donations from individuals, businesses, foundations and government.

A big part of the deadlock, all parties agree, is the long-term distrust of management by musicians, which DuBrul said was exacerbated by the association's suspension of wages. The symphony has not paid the musicians since Sept. 15.

She also questioned what she termed the sudden appearance of management's proposals involving artistic control of the orchestra.

June, when the negotiations began, was "the first time that was raised," DuBrul said. "There had been no problems like that (involving artistic control) at all." Solomon contends the changes will improve the quality of the orchestra.

Whether Hart's presence will make a difference is unknown. But a mediator does bring a new wrinkle to the talks.

"We're very flexible as to how the meetings go," Haehir said. "We have no powers. We cannot order settlements. We can make suggestions. Each mediation or impasse is different. There's no we-follow-rule-A-B-C. We might start with rule Z. We try whatever works. We try whatever brings both sides together. All disputes end up in agreement, ultimately."

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