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Contract dispute heats up at NM Symphony Orchestra
Negotiations between the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and its players are heating up.
In a press release issued Friday, representatives of a musicians committee negotiating with management said players had received notice that their health insurance had been canceled 10 days after the fact.
But the symphony orchestra president said Friday afternoon that a lapse in health care shouldn’t occur because the affected musicians can pay for their own health care under the federal COBRA law.
Symphony President Eric Meyer said in a telephone interview with the Independent that the symphony had canceled health care for 23 musicians because the master agreement expired Aug. 31.
The musicians were notified Sept. 8 “of their right to elect continued coverage at their own expense under” COBRA, he said.
The musicians have 60 days from Sept. 8 to elect the coverage, which would be retroactive to Sept. 1. The musicians shouldn’t experience a lapse in coverage, he said.
A statement furnished by Meyer via e-mail went on to say that “the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides a 65 percent reduction in the premium paid by the eligible person.”
Calls to Carla Lehmeier-Tatum and Richard White, who sit on the musicians’ negotiating committee, were not immediately returned.
The musicians’ press release, which quoted both Lehmeier-Tatum and White, said also that Symphony management had not improved its original offer “of a 25 percent cut in pay, reduction in health insurance and other benefits. The musicians were also asked to extend weeks from 39 to 44.”
“During the past year, the orchestra industry has attempted to strong-arm musicians into taking major concessions without regard to the damage they do to the institution or the local community,” Lehmeier-Tatum is quoted as saying in the release.
The Symphony has been “very open about our financial difficulties,” Meyer said in response to the musicians’ statement. “There are four musicians who sit on our board.”
He said the management needed $690,000 in concessions from musicians because the deficit for the year that ended Aug. 31 had grown to $900,000. The budget for the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31 had started at $6.2 million.
“It has been a horrendous year,”Meyer said.
The orchestra musicians and management began bargaining discussions for a new agreement July 6.
Because of financial difficulties, Meyer said the Symphony has postponed its first two 2009-10 Classics programs, previously scheduled for the weekends of Sept. 25-27 and Oct. 9-11.
The Symphony announced earlier this month it would delay a community concert in Albuquerque slated for Sept. 12 because it had not yet completed negotiations with musicians, the New Mexico Business Weekly reported in a story published Friday.
The Symphony’s Buddy Holly Rocks! Pops program will be performed as scheduled, however, at 8 p.m. Oct. 3 at Popejoy Hall, the Business Weekly said.
The concert will not include symphony musicians, but will feature seven touring musicians performing a concert of 1950s vintage rock music, designed to be a re-creation of the final rock and roll tour of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, who died in a plane crash, the Business Weekly reported.
“They are soloists who would have come anyway and they offered to perform,” Meyer said.