After seven bargaining sessions, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's 34 core musicians and the WCO aren't close to hammering out the terms of a new contract. In fact, musician representative Todd Jelen says that the players became so discouraged with the WCO's unwillingness to bargain on key issues they requested that a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service join the proceedings.
In addition, the unionized musicians have asked the National Labor Relations Board to define the scope of their bargaining unit, which at present does not include poorly paid substitute and extra musicians, who fill out the ranks of the ensemble on a per-concert basis. "Subs and extras were actually in the bargaining unit in previous contracts," explains Jelen. "There was always mention of what they'd be paid and what they'd be required to do. But [managers] don't want to talk about it."
Jelen adds that changes the WCO has proposed for the formula it uses to calculate the reimbursement of travel expenses are also unsatisfactory.
As matters stand now, Jelen says there's little hope that a new contract will be ratified prior to Aug. 31, when the current one expires. Indeed, he notes that the next official bargaining session isn't scheduled until Sept. 15.
WCO musicians have performed without a contract in the past, and that's exactly what may happen at the orchestra's next concert, which takes place Oct. 3 at Overture Center. But Jelen says that the musicians won't wait on a new deal forever.
"We could strike, if need be," he says. "Everyone's aware of that option. They've asked for our assurance that we'd play the first concert of the season, and we hope everyone will bargain in good faith and we can get something wrapped up soon. But we're pretty resolved that should management go down a certain road, we have that option."
WCO executive director Doug Gerhart did not respond to requests for an interview.