The striking musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra offered Tuesday to return to work without a final contract to end a contentious, nearly five-month walkout if management agrees to establish a binding arbitration panel to work out unresolved issues between them.
Musicians' spokesman Karl Pituch said that they're offering to submit contract issues that have not been resolved to a three-person panel composed of union and management representatives and play music again while those issues are hammered out. He said musicians and management would need to negotiate terms of that return, but "we don't think it will be a stumbling block to get us back."
"The strike has gone on long enough _ it's time to be settled," he said. "We want to get back and salvage as much of the season as we can."
Orchestra management officials said in statements they are "delighted" that musicians are prepared to return and are encouraged by the "unanticipated announcement." Management officials say they have communicated with the union's attorney to understand the musicians' specific intentions, offered suggestions on how both sides might proceed and are looking forward to a response from the musicians.
The musicians walked off the job Oct. 4. The orchestra's management suspended the remainder of the season Feb. 19 after musicians rejected what management described as a "final offer."
Pituch declined to discuss specific unresolved issues on Tuesday, but musicians said last month that the management's last offer would have saddled them with unacceptably higher health care deductibles and travel costs. The contract rejection came after a marathon week of negotiating in which mediators, including U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Dan Gilbert, the Detroit-based owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, tried to broker a deal.
The orchestra's management declared an impasse Sept. 1 and began implementing a 33 percent base pay cut for orchestra veterans, from $104,650 to $70,200 in the first year. Musicians had offered a 22 percent reduction to $82,000.
The latest proposal, the symphony said, would have included an $80,200 base salary for the 2012 fiscal year plus $7,100 for optional community and educational work. The total including the $7,100 in optional money would have risen to $87,900 in the 2013 fiscal year and $88,300 in the final year.
The musicians said the rate for musicians would be as low as $5 per hour for participating in every community outreach effort. They also said the full orchestra wouldn't be able to play at as many community events.