St. Louis Symphony Blues

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra hit the pavement January 3rd after rejecting a contract offer that included a pay cut. The last time the symphony went on strike was in 1979.

Management began canceling concerts January 5th as the majority of the 93 orchestra members picketed and played music outside Powell Symphony Hall for about 90 minutes.

The performance season, which runs through April, is up in the air for now. Future performances will be decided on a weekly basis. Tickets to canceled shows can be exchanged for concerts later in the season or a full refund, management spokesman Jeffrey Trammel said.

Jan Gippo, who heads the musicians’ bargaining unit, said the strike is the result of a “philosophical difference” between the two sides that needs to be worked out.

The symphony was said to be close to bankruptcy in mid-2000. Two years later, the union-backed musicians agreed to a three-year contract that included a season shortened by 10 weeks, pay cuts and changes in their pension and retirement plans. Two philanthropists pitched in about $1 million each to help pay the orchestra’s salaries at the time.

The musicians now feel they’ve earned a raise and suggest management use some of the endowment funds raised by the orchestra to supplement their salaries.

Meanwhile, the symphony is putting aside the labor dispute to perform a January 14th concert benefitting the South Asia tsunami victims. The funds will go to the American Red Cross.