Knoxville Symphony Orchestra musicians file grievance following furlough announcement

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra is facing a grievance from its members after furloughing musicians for five months.

The Knoxville Symphony Society announced Monday it was canceling the remainder of the 2020 season amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The orchestra is also furloughing most of its administrative staff starting Sept. 14.

KSO Executive Director Rachel Ford said it was a “heart-wrenching decision” but one that had to be made to make a viable path going forward for the orchestra.

The musicians say the decision is “cruel and unconscionable” and violates the collective bargaining agreement between them and the KSO.

“We’ve been working with the KSO for several months to offer extra flexibility and innovative ideas for putting on safe performances that bring music into our community and schools at a time when everyone needs it most,” Steve Benne, chair of the musicians’ orchestra committee, said.

“In return, and without any advance warning, the KSO furloughed us a week before our season was about to begin.” 

The cancellation covers 24 shows and other educational concerts.

Benne said other orchestras have developed creative and safe plans to perform and keep musicians compensated and covered under their health plans.

“We are ready, willing, and able to work,” he said. “That management would take this route during a national health crisis, especially without communicating with us, is a huge blow to Knoxville.”

On Wednesday, the KSO released the following statement:

As the Knoxville Symphony stated to the Orchestra Committee, we remain open to continue bargaining with Local 546 of the American Federation of Musicians. We remain committed to reaching a viable solution for the KSO, musicians and staff.

Knoxville Symphony Orchestra

In the meantime, ticket holders have the option to donate the value of canceled concerts to help support the KSO or request a refund. For ticket assistance, visit the KSO’s website to access an online form or email boxoffice@knoxvillesymphony.com.

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