The Kennedy Center Orchestra passed a strike vote at its union meeting Thursday night and may go on strike next week unless it sees "movement" in its current contract negotiations.
"I had to ask for a strike vote," Frank Carnovale, chairman of the Kennedy Center Orchestra Committee, said yesterday, "and it was approved by 60 to 1 in a secret ballot. This means that the orchestra members have agreed that if there is no significant movement by management, they will be on the picket lines next week."
The orchestra's contract expired last month, but its strike deadline was extended until tomorrow, when the orchestra committee and representatives of management will meet with a mediator. According to Kennedy Center Communications Director Laura Longley, the center will approach Sunday's negotiating session "in good faith."
Carnovale was not sure whether a strike with picket lines would close down the Kennedy Center completely, but he said he was confident that other orchestras would honor the picket lines. The National Symphony is touring in Europe this month and is not scheduled to play at the Kennedy Center until Oct. 3. Other orchestras booked into the Kennedy Center before then are the Philadelphia Orchestra on Sept. 23 and the Baltimore Symphony on Oct. 2.
The primary issues in the contract negotiation, according to Carnovale, are the length of the orchestra's season, the minimum complement of players required for certain kinds of performance, and the pay scale, which he said is far lower than that of orchestras doing comparable work in other cities.
"Washington is either going to provide a decent chance of a living for its free-lance musicians or many of us will have to leave," he said. "It's that simple. What we want from the center is a number: 'We will provide you with X amount of weeks and we will provide you with sufficient notice so that you can organize the rest of your income possibilities.' "
He said he also wants management to "start approaching the issue of our lack of parity with similar orchestras" in salary. For its performances in the Opera House, he said, the Washington Opera's budget is "in the same ballpark as Dallas, Seattle and San Diego. Dallas is the lowest and just on salary alone, for the same type of opera season we put on at the Kennedy Center, they are paid 26 percent more." Salary scales are 27 percent higher in Seattle and 33 percent higher in San Diego, he said.