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With Saturday's season-opening concert riding on the outcome, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra management and musicians are submitting their labor dispute to federal mediation.

Negotiators for both sides Wednesday will ask mediator Kevin Powers to help end a stalemate over orchestra wages and benefits that threatens to sink the opening-night gala at Kleinhans Music Hall and could compromise the whole 1999-2000 schedule.

Management had proposed submitting the matter to a state mediator, but agreed with the musicians to seek federal help instead.

With BPO President Joseph E. Goodell and Executive Director Lawrence A. Ribits back from vacation, both sides were hoping to meet with Powers Monday. But the musicians' lead negotiator, Leonard Liebowitz, was unavailable. He was 100 miles away, hammering out a new contract for Toronto Symphony musicians.

Meanwhile, Mayor Masiello has offered to help. He spoke with both sides over the weekend in an effort to nudge the process toward settlement.

"The mayor is very concerned," said Mark Jones, president of Buffalo Musicians Association Local 92, who met with Masiello Saturday. "I think he's very worried this orchestra could shut down. The last thing he wants to hear is about another Buffalo institution going down the tube."

Orchestra Chairman Robert M. Greene said he hopes the meeting with Powers at the Federal Mediation Center in Amherst will at least help move the bargaining forward.

"We're hoping to get clarification in terms of what the union's position is," he said.

The musicians are demanding an increase in their base pay over the next three years from the present $27,500 to the industry average of about $40,000. Management's most recent proposal would boost the base salary to about $35,000 over the same period.

"We have no more money to put on the table," Greene said.

Even if a settlement is reached in time to save the opening concert under new Music Director JoAnn Falletta, the event will not be televised.

Greene said it was decided over the weekend to scrap a planned simulcast by WNED-TV due to financial considerations.

"We just couldn't ask public broadcasting to take that risk. And with the cost involved, we couldn't take the risk either," he said.

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