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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After more than a year of back and forth negotiating, the music has stopped. And so have the talks.
Louisville Orchestra management will begin replacing musicians as early as next week after talks with current players broke down, orchestra's CEO Rob Birman said Monday.
The musicians and orchestra management were very close to reaching a deal on a new labor agreement, but over the weekend things soured when the two sides could not agree on a number of musicians for the orchestra roster.
There were other factors at play, but ultimately it was the dispute over the numbers, work rule changes and a disagreement over attrition that brought a screeching halt to 16 months of negotiations.
The musicians have been without a contract since May. The Louisville Orchestra has emerged from bankruptcy and must downsize to become "sustainable," said Birman.
"We'd like to see our players come back to work but if they can't accept the terms that are affordable, then we will find a different way to have an orchestra for our community," he added.
Translation: Orchestra management will begin replacing the musicians by next week. The current players have seven days to come back to work - individually or collectively.
Henri Mangeot, one of two mediators brought in to broker a deal, said he isn't giving up.
"I'll reach out to both sides and see if we can get talking again," Mangeot told WDRB News.
Mangeot says the battle between the musicians and Louisville Orchestra management has been the most difficult in his three decades of work.
"As of now, it looks pretty dark," he said. "We still need to keep on trying."
Emerging from bankruptcy, the orchestra wanted to reduce the number of musicians to 55. At one time, the roster held 71.
The musicians agreed to the "55" figure last week hoping to negotiate other matters, said Kim Tichenor, a violinist and member of the musicians' negotiating committee. But Tichenor says the musicians were told the orchestra's offer was "all or nothing" – an ultimatum she says they could not accept.
Now the orchestra is looking to operate itself with as few as 50 replacement musicians. Tichenor called this day a "tragedy," saying she thinks future talks are "dead in the water."
"I think it's disastrous," Tichenor said. "I think [orchestra management is] going to have a hard time replacing the musicians."
When asked if he were willing to sit down with a mediator again, Birman said: "No.... Sixteen months is more than enough time. The board and the management have to move this institution forward. The public demands that."