Two sides in Atlanta Symphony dispute dispute whether they're heading into arbitration

The two sides in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra labor dispute haven't been able to agree on much as the musician lockout enters its fourth week. But the crossed signals reached a new level of confusion on Saturday night when the administration and players released contradictory statements about their acceptance -- or lack thereof -- of the help of a federal mediator to restart stalled negotiations.

Early Saturday evening, an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra spokesperson emailed media a release that said that management and the ASO Players' Association have agreed to resume collective bargaining agreement discussions using federal mediator Allison Beck. The two sides have not talked since the musicians were locked out when a new collective bargaining agreement could not be reached by midnight Sept. 7.

"We are pleased that after weeks of an open offer, the musicians' union has accepted mediation and we're looking forward to getting back to the negotiating table," ASO president and CEO Stanley Romanstein said in the statement. "We are ready to resolve our differences and start the ASO's 70th anniversary season."

Not so fast, leaders of the ASO Players' Association responded in a statement of their own, issued just before midnight. That statement, signed by Players' Association president Paul Murphy and vice president Daniel Laufer, said they had expressed interest in talking with Beck last Monday, to generally discuss questions about the mediation process, but had not heard from her and had not yet decided to participate.

"We received a formal request for mediation on Monday, September 22nd at 10:55am from WAC/ASO management," the Players' Association statement explained. "Three hours later, we accepted the suggestion to speak with Ms. Allison Beck, the Acting Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and were told that FMCS officials would be contacting us accordingly, which has not happened yet. ...

"The musicians are happy to speak with FMCS Director Beck about pathways forward when she is able to be in touch with us," the statement from ASO musicians Murphy and Laufer continued. "There is as yet no further agreement about the process."

Beck served as mediator during the Metropolitan Opera musicians' labor dispute this summer and is credited with bringing those thorny negotiations to a successful conclusion.

The ASO's season was supposed to have opened on Thursday night, but, without an agreement in place, management cancelled it and all concerts through Nov. 8. Instead the musicians and supporters, including music director Robert Spano, participated in a wordless demonstration dubbed “A Deafening Silence” on Callaway Plaza, outside the 15th Street entrance to the Woodruff Arts Center.

The AJC will continue to monitor and and report on this most recent disagreement in the ongoing dispute. Stay tuned.

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