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Disagreement over the loss of symphony musicians benefits

Posted at 11:50 PM, Jun 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-26 23:50:25-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's chief executive officer is talking about what he calls a misunderstanding between the musicians and management.

The disagreement comes after the musicians have been furloughed for a second time. They also lost their health insurance at the beginning of the month. It's a matter of how those benefits got dropped that is where the sides disagree.

"It's not correct to say we cut them off in health insurance," James Johnson, CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, said.

Johnson said the musicians lost their health insurance because that's what was in the agreement they signed.

"It's a written agreement. It was negotiated in good faith," Johnson said. "Approved by the musicians and their attorney and then voted on by the musicians."

Roger Roe, an ISO musician for 25 years, disagrees.

"If the management is somehow saying we voted to cut off our own healthcare or voluntarily gave up healthcare during a global health crisis I don't know anyone in the country or world who would do that," Roe said.

Roe said he was in all the negotiation meetings and that was never something to which they agreed. Johnson said they had every intention to continue paying for the players to have health insurance.

"When the option was put on the table to them they said, 'No, we want to be paid that sum in the form of cash payments in lieu of accepting and continuing our health insurance,'" Johnson said.

The symphony's endowment was brought up as a possible solution, but Johnson said the endowment is at a historic low, even though the ISO Foundation has been giving more than what's standard for the last two decades. Dipping into that was something the trustees declined to do.

"They felt like they had to take a stand and say that this year is not the year particularly when the economy is uncertain to reduce that endowment even further," Johnson said.

It's a tough situation for all parties involved with everyone wanting a positive resolution going forward.

"All we want to do is to be able to have talks with management about how the orchestra comes back safely in September," Roe said. "That's all we're after. There's no ulterior motive."

"It is my hope that we can come together very soon and make a plan that will serve not only the needs of our musicians but also the needs of our community during the time of this pandemic," Johnson said.

Johnson said the ISO endowment provides annual support to the symphony, helping them with operational expenses. The symphony did sent a request to their musicians on Friday to start negotiations on July 13 for the 2020-2021 season.

Financial problems led to a contract dispute with musicians in 2012 leading to canceled concerts.