CSO back in business; dismissal of complaint clears way for revival

Charleston Symphony Orchestra

Charleston Symphony musicians and management reached an agreement Monday to settle a breach-of-contract claim filed by the musicians’ union with the National Labor Review Board.

The deal paves the way for symphony board members and staff to schedule a holiday concert and salvage what remains of the 2010-11 season, and it marks the resumption of operations for the orchestra, which announced in March it was temporarily shutting down because of cash shortfalls.

The players’ union soon after filed a complaint arguing that the shutdown was illegal because it amounted to a unilateral action by the board.

Musicians — the 24 left standing after contract negotiations concluded last week — were back on the payroll as of Monday, board President Ted Legasey said.

The American Federation of Musicians, Local 502, agreed to dismiss its complaint against symphony management and its claim to $440,000 in back wages and benefits in exchange for more influence in the governance of the organization.

The agreement requires the board to reserve 23 percent of its seats for nominees presented by union musicians. Such nominees would be subject to the normal vetting process and would have to follow regular procedures.

The percentage ratio was calculated to ensure that musicians have a seat at the table no matter the size of the board, which is subject to change, Legasey said. Currently, it would give musician-endorsed members five seats of 21.

The board also agreed to an orderly leadership transition, according to Legasey. The organization would replace officers and committee chairs “as expeditiously as possible,” but within a 60-day time frame if possible.

“This is a process that should not and will not be driven by the current board,” Legasey said. A yet-to-be-named “outside agent” likely will oversee the transition, ensuring transparency and providing the community’s stamp of approval.

Though musicians had asked for a security interest in the music library and instruments owned by the symphony, the agreement did not provide for it.

Tim O’Malley, president of Local 502 of the musicians’ union, said he had no comment, but confirmed that he will sign the deal. An e-mail from the union was sent to its members Tuesday describing the terms of the arrangement.

Ryan Leveille, musicians’ spokesman, said the settlement of disputes has been “a long and draining process” that’s left some colleagues without jobs and weakened the symphony organization.

“We’ve got all the hurdles to get over,” Leveille said. “The symphony has to reconstruct its administrative staff and we’ve got to get the season off the ground, and there are a lot of steps to getting that going.”

Early last week, musicians and management settled another dispute, agreeing to new contract terms that reduced the size of the full-time symphony core, trimmed the budget and cut salaries. While the core of 24 players is not likely to grow in size soon, the three-year plan does call for budget and salary increases.

The two deals clear the way for board members and symphony staff to begin fundraising efforts and to schedule concerts.

“The message we are trying to communicate to people is, we are not at the finish line, we are at the starting line,” Legasey said. “There is very hard work to be done to raise the money to put the wind under the wings of the orchestra.”