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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 17, 2003

Symphony players accept pay cut

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Honolulu Symphony Orchestra musicians voted yesterday to reluctantly accept across-the-board pay cuts as a way of reducing $1 million in debt and avoiding staffing cuts.

Local 677 of the Musicians Association of Hawai'i did not release the vote count last night, but its membership agreed to a 20 percent pay cut next year along with a pay freeze in the fourth year of the current five-year contract. The new agreement also has a reopener clause for the fifth year, when the two sides will review symphony finances and discuss possible raises or further cuts.

In addition to the pay cuts, the musicians agreed to a reduction in pension benefits and a shorter season, from 34 weeks to 30 weeks. The base pay for a musician is $30,345 for a 34-week session.

Symphony performers said they were not happy with the cutbacks in pay and pension, but the alternatives would have been a reduction in the orchestra by six members or a strike.

The symphony has 63 full-time and 20 part-time musicians.

"Once again the musicians ... have stepped up to the plate to help this organization survive," Michael Largarticha, president of Local 677, said in a written statement. "While these cuts will make the lives of our members and their families dramatically more difficult during the next two years, we expect that this sacrifice now will help assure the long-term survival of this relevant 103-year-old institution."

Symphony president Stephen Bloom said the two sides worked hard to come to terms.

"Obviously this is not something that anybody wanted, but it was certainly something that the organization needed to do to come to live within its means," Bloom said last night. "One of the things that we have worked very hard on in the last couple of years is fostering a good relationship between the musicians and the board and management. In the end it was that relationship and the sharing of information that helped pull this off."

Bloom and the musicians agreed that a smaller orchestra would not be in the best interest of the musicians or the community.

"We did leave it to the negotiating committee of the musicians to decide what was best to present to their membership, and artistic integrity was one of the things that was most important to the musicians, as it is to us," Bloom said.

Symphony musicians representative Scott Janusch, an oboist, said he hoped that the sacrifice by the performers will not go unnoticed.

"It is time for board and management to help stabilize and grow this important community asset once and for all by increasing the endowment, improving fund-raising and increasing the audience," Janusch said. "By ratifying this agreement, we have done our share to see that this becomes a reality."

Bloom said the symphony will announce today that it has taken a giant step toward the common goal by accepting $2.1 million in gifts from three donors. He said the money will enable the symphony to be debt-free for the first time in a decade and to fulfill terms of the musicians' contract for this season.

"What has happened here with the new contract and the gifts truly positions the symphony for the first time in many, many years to be on solid footing and it really truly does prepare us to enter into an endowment campaign," Bloom said.

Reach Curtis Lum at 525-8025 or culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.