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Wage and hour laws and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra dispute

Many industries have experienced the serious effects of a challenging economy. The entertainment and arts industries are no different. In Atlanta, one group that brings together the best of the arts, entertainment and music, now finds its members embroiled in a dispute that may require management to review wage and hour laws, and consider what steps to take next as they seek to protect the interests of the business.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) musicians and management are in the middle of a contract dispute as one contract ends, and there is no consensus on implementing a new one. This dispute comes only days before the contract deadline. The ASO reportedly is working with a $20 million deficit, leaving management to ponder the best ways to try and recoup some of the lost funds and save the orchestra.

The primary issue of the dispute is labor cost and the mounting deficit. Management has reportedly offered the options of reducing the individual wages of musicians, the number of hours worked, and the overall size of the orchestra in order to reduce costs. Due to overspending and the financial struggles of the economy, the ASO has struggled to find ways to stay afloat and keep the orchestra running.

There are reports that management may take desperate actions against employees, including cutting off pay and benefits if an agreement is not met by the deadline. The ASO has denied these claims, even though a memo indicates that the ASO may not have authority to continue these benefits for musicians without a valid contract. ASO managers appear to be within their rights in seeking a resolution that will benefit the business and move the industry forward. The ASO has been working with musicians to get them involved in promoting a healthy future for the orchestra, including sharing in the responsibilities of management.

Atlanta businesses that have contracts with their employees have rights that protect them in such disputes. There has been no indication that the ASO management team has violated any laws in this dispute. Wage and hour law is a part of employment law that regulates the amount that workers are paid, and the fairness of the hours scheduled. When organizations are accused of reducing hours or pay, it is important to consider the laws of the state and work to find a fair resolution for the business and the employees.

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Symphony faces labor deadline," Ernie Suggs, Aug. 24, 2012

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