Contract talks between the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and its musicians have struck a sour note over salary and workload issues.

Union negotiator and percussionist Serge Desgagnés says orchestra management has shown little appreciation of the workload borne by the world-renowned symphony's musicians, something management denies. 

He also said there has been little progress in achieving wage parity with musicians at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

"Our colleagues in Toronto have just signed a new two-year contract that gives them raises of two and two-a-half per cent per year and they already were quite far ahead of us," Desgagnés said in an interview Friday.

He is expecting a negotiating blitz between now and the end of August so that a deal can be reached before the orchestra moves into a new concert hall in September.


The MSO is set to move into its long-awaited new concert hall in September.

The union has not ruled out pressure tactics but won't elaborate on what form they might take.

Management says it has reached an agreement with the union on measures aimed at easing the workload but that some adjustments are required. It also acknowledges there is a considerable gap between what it is offering in terms of salary and what the union is seeking.

The orchestra notes the union has barely budged from its initial demand of a 10 per cent increase over two years.

The orchestra says even an 8.5 per cent hike is far beyond the symphony's capacity, saying it is proposing four per cent over two years.

Orchestras can't be compared

Madeleine Careau, the orchestra's managing director, pointed out the Montreal and Toronto orchestras can't be compared because Toronto benefits from a bigger population base, more corporate support and "greater collective wealth."

Careau said the Montreal orchestra has to rely much more on government support.

"Given the amount of public funds involved, the MSO must exercise great caution in its financial management," she said.

"The union must take into account the economic context in which we operate and be more realistic in their wage demands."  

There are 92 musicians with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

It's not the first time negotiations between the symphony and its union have been tough. In a previous round, former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, known for his skill as a negotiator, was brought in to resolve the impasse. Bouchard is currently chairman of the symphony's board.