So what if you can't pay the bills! Union says shutting down out-of-cash symphony violated contract

Perhaps the musicians’ union would rather play to an empty house, but when there are not enough patrons, then getting paid becomes a little problematic.Last week, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra suspended its operations due to its lack of cash.

Faced with the reality that it could not make payroll through April, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra announced Sunday it would suspend operations for the rest of its season.

The organization is looking at ways to restructure and cut operating costs in hopes of presenting a 2010-2011 season in the fall.

However, the orchestra’s cash-flow problem is not stopping the American Federations of Musicians from filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board claiming the shutting down of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s remaining shows violates its contract and is tantamount to a lock out.

The Charleston Symphony Orchestra board of directors’ recent decision to suspend operations is a violation of its labor agreement with musicians, a spokesman for the Players Association of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra said.

Players Association spokesman Ryan Leveille said musicians, under the auspices of the American Federation of Musicians Local 502, are in the process of filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

He said that the union local signed a five-year collective bargaining agreement that runs through May 2012 and that the agreement cannot be changed unilaterally.

Leveille also said musicians are working on their own to carry out some of the performances that the symphony’s board canceled for the season.

The board of directors announced to the public on March 28 that it had canceled the season’s remaining performances, scheduled for April and May, because it had run out of cash and could not pay its musicians and staff.


Leveille said his group got a letter from Legasey announcing the shutdown on March 28, the same day the decision was announced publicly.

“The problem with that, from a contractual point of view, is we have a collective bargaining agreement that clearly outlines our working conditions and pay and benefits,” Leveille said. “Neither party has the right or the authority to unilaterally violate that agreement. By taking this action without first coming to some sort of agreement constitutes a lockout.”

Read more here.

Sadly, even if the union-controlled NLRB rules in favor of the musicians’ union, the symphony still has a problem…no money.


“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

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