Knoxville Symphony Orchestra musicians, management headed to arbitration

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Musicians with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and the orchestra’s management group are heading to arbitration after contract talks fell through Thursday.

According to the musicians union, the management group declined the union’s proposal from Aug. 28 which included a pay cut.

“KSO management pressed for a drastically reduced percentage of musicians’ normal
compensation, while still requiring full availability to our work schedule,” said violinist Edward
Pulgar. “It’s so disappointing and frustrating that they refused to engage in meaningful
conversation about our needs.”

The orchestra management said “it remains committed to continued talks with our musicians.”

“While a plan to move safely forward with presentations and performances exists, we must make every effort to operate within available resources and ensure the long-term survival of the organization,” KSO said in a statement. “Our offer to provide 75% of salaries this season will result in the largest deficit budget that can be managed – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – and the KSO Board has accepted that challenge.”

Musicians were outside performing in front of the orchestra offices while negotiators from their union and management met. The symphony’s season was pushed back to February amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting guidelines limiting gatherings like concerts.

“We had hopes that management would listen to reason,” violinist Audrey Pride said. “We
shouldn’t have to go through this. It’s a sad day for Knoxville and the institutions we serve.”

Musicians were put on furlough Aug. 24. The union representing them filed a grievance two days later.

“We’re really trying to express that we can still be optimistic and find an equitable solution for everyone and we’re hoping orchestra management comes to the table willing to do that kind of thinking,” KSO musician Sean Donovan said.

The protesting musicians want management to respect their existing contract.

Some musician, however, were siding with management.

“My feelings were what the KSO management offered was more than fair considering we can’t play in the Tennessee Theatre and sell tickets, and I know there are many many members of the Knoxville Symphony who feel the same way,” principal clarinetist Gary Sperl said.

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