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Columbus Symphony suspends summer operations

Sharp disagreements over money have marked 4 months of contract talks between CSO management and the musicians union. Most recently, the union rejected a 40-percent pay cut. Symphony officials said was their last offer because the community will not support current salaries. CSO Board Chairman Buzz Trafford says their struggling finances cannot support the summer pop series this year.

"Picnic is a break-even," Trafford said. "It's not a big money maker as surprising as that may be; it's actually very expensive for us to do."

Not only is the summer series canceled. Despite two six-figure donations in three months, symphony officials say the will have not have enough money to operate after June 1. This includes paying the musicians' salaries.

"The fundamental problem is we are out of money," Trafford said. "And we may have small amounts of money available but certainly nothing like what would be necessary to make the musician's payroll."

But Musician's Union President Doug Fisher says they will fight for their summer salary if necessary.

"We have a legally binding contract," he said. "If they choose not to have the summer season, that doesn't relieve them of their obligation to pay our salaries. And if they don't, then there are various other legal remedies that we can apply if we need to." Fisher says the symphony did not give him any notification they were ceasing operations for the summer. As they had in the past, symphony officials went public with the announcement first, a move Fisher says is a clear sign of disrespect.

"The Columbus Dispatch called me," he said. "This is an unfortunate pattern of behavior by the board with the musicians.

Fisher says when the musicians rejected the final offer from CSO officials they knew a shutdown was possible. He says most of the musicians have already started looking for jobs with other orchestras and at universities.

"Some people will have no choice but to seek other careers and possibly go back to school," Fisher said. "Obviously a very difficult prospect but there not much choice when you're faced with a 40-percent pay cut. When you have a family to take care of and you have to make money, just like everyone else in Central Ohio, you have to do what you have to do to make money."

Trafford says the symphony will maintain a skeletal office staff, but there will be layoffs. He says the board is still willing to talk with the musicians.

"We made clear we were prepared at the beginning of this week to meet with them to try to reach that agreement," Trafford said. "But we also, being candid with them, told them we don't have any more money for the meetings this week than we had in our last meetings."

In the next few weeks the CSO Board will make a decision about the 2008-2009 season.