This week is when the crap really starts hitting the fan in regards to the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra negotiations. Or, as it’s known around these parts: Orchestral Apocalypse ’012. Here’s a comprehensive discussion of what all happened in Week -4, Week -3, and Week -2. Warning: this situation has become so complicated, so political, so bizarre, that if you’re just starting to pay attention now, you’d be well-served by reading the entirety of my Tumblr, which includes the discussions of what happened in the various weeks, as well as all the editorials I’ve written. Yes, I understand that’s a lot of reading, but to be fair, a lot of crap has happened lately.
25 September 2012 (published a day late; sorry)
A lot of information has come out lately. Here are some articles you can read at your leisure…
Orchestra headed toward lockout? Star Tribune. 24 September, 11:11AM
Minn. Orchestra Musicians Say Strike Is Possibility. WCCO. 24 September, 5:55PM
Could Twin Cities Orchestras Go Silent? KARE. 24 September, 6:05PM
The latest on SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra labor talks. MPR. 24 September, 9:20PM
Minn. Orchestra, SPCO contract negotiations still without agreement. MPR. 24 September.
SPCO rejects musicians’ contract counterproposal. MPR. 24 September.
SPCO contract talks stall; management wants 28 players, down from 34. Pioneer Press. 24 September.
Just some miscellaneous thoughts…
I’m disappointed that the media isn’t talking more about working conditions and managements’ visions for the future. These are not just squabbles over money, although you’d never guess it from the majority of press reports.
I’m not sure why Minnesota management refused to allow their musicians to address the board, especially since there were already plans for management to convene that evening…? I’d like to hear from them about that. Why wouldn’t you at least make the show of meeting with them? You wouldn’t have to actually listen to them, if you didn’t want to. You could play with your new iPhone and tune them out. But then at least afterward you could say you met with them when they offered to reach out to you. This just seems like an easily avoidable PR failure. (One of many, unfortunately…)
After this latest barrage of press reports, I feel like I’m understanding better why there has been no counter-proposal from the Minnesota musicians: they want more answers about the organization’s finances before they can decide what would be a reasonable proposal. I think that’s a totally fair request. Having just dug into some old articles, and found some pretty serious discrepancies in management’s attitudes (and numbers) between 2008 and 2010 and 2012, I believe the musicians are more than justified in asking for an independent financial analysis. In fact, I feel that donors should be clamoring for an independent financial analysis. (If I was Julia Dayton, I’d be making some very angry calls to Orchestra Hall administration after what management has all said over the past few weeks…) Once again, management, you’re free to step forward and clarify, either here directly or through the press or through your website. But until you do, I have to deal with the facts on the ground, and the facts on the ground say that the musicians have good reason to feel confused…and betrayed.
Remember how on the 24th SPCO management rejected the musicians’ proposal (details above)? That consisted of “a first-year guaranteed pay of $73,000 for the first two years, with an increase to $77,000 in the third year. They also asked for no change in the size of the orchestra, increased pension contributions in the third year and increased seniority pay throughout the contract,” according to the Pioneer Press. Well, the musicians have tried again…
According to the Pioneer Press:
The musicians agreed to further salary cuts that would bring the minimum annual salaries down to $70,000 for the first two years of the contract and $75,000 for the third…
In order to avoid reducing the orchestra’s size from 34 players down to 28, the musicians have asked management to take the money set aside for buyouts and apply it toward the operating budget.
“They’ve told us 16 musicians are eligible for a buyout,” said Carole Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee. “That money should (be used) to preserve the orchestra rather than dismember it and start all over again.”
In addition, the musicians have offered to perform up to eight free concerts specifically for fundraising events.
I’m guessing the musicians feel fairly confident about this offer, as they’ve posted the entirety of their contract up on their blog, which they’ve never done before. Waiting on management’s response now… (One wonders where the money that management wanted to use for buyouts came from. Has anyone explained that? Right now, judging by press reports, it seems it just magically appeared. Abracadabra!)
I’ve been feeling for a few weeks as if the situation in St. Paul is slightly less bleak than the one in Minneapolis, and hopefully this proves it.
Speaking of the bleak situation in Minneapolis…
The situation in Minneapolis is bleak.
Yesterday Minnesota management offered their ominously titled Final Proposal, which makes a generous effort to compromise by…not really compromising much at all. Management is still claiming they want a $89,000 average salary. (Really, guys? You couldn’t even come up to, say, $90,500 to at least give a vague impression of compromise? A $1500 raise in the proposed average salary would only cost you roughly $135,000 more a year. [The exact number would vary depending on how many musicians would be in the group.] Michael Henson alone could cover the vast majority of that if he agreed to a 30% pay cut.) But I guess they did offer some clarifications and some changes in working conditions, and that’s…something. I guess. Not sure what those exact changes are yet. Musicians are still reviewing the document. Hopefully we’ll hear from them soon. I’m not optimistic about their response.
Richard Davis said:
“Nearly six months have passed and we have yet to receive from our players a counterproposal or even any indication of their priorities,” he said.
*politely raises hand* Um, Mr. Davis, I’m not sure where you’ve been over the last few months, but since you’re clearly just joining us, allow me to be the one to inform you that the musicians’ first priority is an independent financial analysis because the things you have said about the state of the orchestra’s finances contradict themselves. We have Google now, people! You can’t expect us to forget what you said in 2010! How are the musicians possibly supposed to know what their priorities are if they don’t even know how much money the orchestra may (or may not) be sitting on? It’s like someone saying, “Well, I’m not sure what my income currently is, or what it will be in future, but I do know with absolute certainty how much I can afford to spend on food, clothing, shelter, insurance, transportation, and everything else!” That’s the talk of a deranged mind. And a banker of all people should know that. Hell, maybe if you agreed to run an independent financial analysis, and the numbers came back that you’re saying will come back, who knows what could happen? Maybe the musicians would agree that your proposal is reasonable, and the only possible way to save the organization, like you’ve been telling us all along. Then maybe we could all move the crap on.
We also heard why management does not want an independent financial analysis:
unnecessary delay and duplication of efforts
One word for this: lame. On second thought, three words: lame, lame, and lame. Management doesn’t cite the cost (the thing my naive self assumed would be the stumbling block); they cite “delay” and “duplication of efforts.” Well maybe if you’d agreed to an analysis a few weeks ago, we’d be that much closer to getting the results! And maybe if you’d agree to an analysis, the musicians might temporarily accept your terms while the calculations are going on! And maybe if you’d agreed to an analysis, you could silence devoted patrons who are going so far as to wonder out loud if you’re engaging in fraud (comment section)! What would the down-side to such an analysis be, besides the inconvenience of “delay” and “duplication of effort”? It would make your musicians happy, as it would presumably answer the questions they have which they say you’re not answering. It would make negotiations less tense because everyone would be on the same page. It would be a net gain for management, as it would make the musicians look incredibly petty for being so obsessed with independent financial reviews lately. If nothing else, management could at least answer some questions about why you guys said you were doing so swimmingly in 2010, when now you say you were actually drowning in 2010.
Until further notice, I’m assuming there’s something fishy going on. Given the publicly available facts, what else am I supposed to think?
“If they want more conversation this week, we are here to find a resolution,” he said.
You guys didn’t seem to be interested in conversation the other day when you rejected a request for the musicians to give a presentation to the board…
Well, in the meantime…if you’re lonely and need someone to talk to about finding solutions to your orchestra’s countless intractable problems…you’ve always always got me and my Hundred Questions… Just saying. <3 xx
Here are the articles that came out today, so you can read all the details and try judging for yourself what’s happening…
Minnesota Orchestra’s final offer. Star Tribune. 25 September.
SPCO musicians make counteroffer; Minnesota Orchestra talks appear stalled. Pioneer Press. 25 September.
As deadlines near, developments in contract struggles at MnOrch and SPCO. MPR. 26 September.
Also interesting: yesterday’s Minnesota musicians’ blog entry discussing their last negotiating session.
Some highlights (lowlights?):
Board Chair Jon Campbell expressed regret at the Board and Management’s handling of the endowment funds over the past ten years, noting that they had been unhappy with the advice they had acted upon and had to change investment advisers. Campbell also admitted that the Board and Management had been wrong in 2007 regarding their investment predictions.
After lunch, Musicians asked questions related to the most recent endowment charts, with the main question being: Where does the $97 Million that the Board has raised thus far (in the Building for the Future Fund) fit into the total endowment structure? The Board and Management did not answer [editor's note: lol], but said they would provide that information later…
Finally, Musicians requested to speak to the entire Board of Directors at that evening’s meeting, and be given an opportunity to offer their morning presentation. The Board and Management rejected that request.
Stay classy, Minnesota Orchestra management. Stay classy. *thumbs up*
Well, this is not a day of events I’m looking forward to summarizing. And it probably will only get worse from here on out. I knew it was bad when I realized I was in the mood to listen to a lonely mournful lumberjack singing sad incomprehensible lyrics…in falsetto.
God I’m depressed. *takes swig of alcohol*
Yesterday SPCO management rejected their musicians’ proposal. Here’s the article from the Pioneer Press, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra managers reject union contract offer.
In a statement late Wednesday, Sept. 26, SPCO president Dobson West called the proposal a “very small step forward” that does not provide any material savings and places the financial burden on the orchestra’s audience and donors.
Did he really need to qualify “a step forward” with the condescending “very small”? At this point, it seems as though any small step should be considered a giant leap. Because if you’re making any kind of progress at all after nine months, frankly, that’s a miracle. This new contract is taking as much time to gestate as a human baby.
While I’m on the subject of the SPCO (which I haven’t been on very often lately) I wanted to throw in my two cents about memberships: they’re ridiculously, criminally cheap. How about offering something like two months of free concerts, to see if you’d even be interested in attending, and then after that, increasing the price of a membership to $10 or $12 a month? I’m living way below the poverty line, and I’d be happy to pay $7.50 (the musicians’ offer) or $10 or $12 a month for access to world-class concerts. Honestly, I’d pay $20, but music is obviously the most important thing in my life, so I’m a skewed sample. But surely people who are really interested and invested in the orchestra, who are told that an increase in the cost of membership will go directly to keeping that orchestra intact during difficult financial times…surely those people would be willing to pony up an extra $2.50 a month? If they don’t feel invested enough in the orchestra to pay that little bit more a month…would they really then bother coming to the shows? I have a very hard time believing they would. And isn’t that the whole point of the membership program…to cultivate new audiences? Not people who come once or twice and then stop… People who come and then keep coming. People who feel invested in the quality of what’s happening onstage. People who will support the other people (also known as the “orchestra”) onstage.
I don’t feel comfortable running all the calculations on how much this proposed contract will save the SPCO because I don’t have the expertise (or time) to wade through all the numbers, but I’d be interested in seeing management’s math on that one. There’s a letter on their website about the 24 September negotiations, saying that the union’s second proposal only saved $100,000 over the three-year life of the contract, but none has been posted about the musicians’ most recent proposal. Maybe that will come later. Or maybe they’re waiting until after this weekend to unveil the numbers. I don’t know.
Also, why has Mr. West not explained the $1.6 – $3.2 million – not sure of the exact number – which has been made available for the 16 musician buyouts? Once again, I’m so curious to hear where that number came from, when, how, why, etc. I don’t think he’s mentioned the background on that…has he? Have you heard anything about it? Let me know if you have.
Here’s an excerpt from West’s September 7 letter:
This proposal represents a significant stretch for the Society and our donors. Our donors have spoken loud and clear: there is no additional funding available to support the status quo and in fact, current funding levels will not be sustained for the status quo. Significant additional funds will be available, however, for real transformation – an orchestra of exceptional artistic quality with our fixed expenses in line with our sustainable revenues, with the flexibility to meet a rapidly changing environment and with fair and respectful compensation for our Musicians, at rates we can afford.
I wish we could hear from these donors. I haven’t heard from them in the press, and I would very much like to. I would like to hear them explain in their own words why they feel the status quo is unsustainable, and if they feel the artistic quality of the orchestra will decrease as a result of these specific cuts, and also their qualifications for making such assessments. I wonder if there are any large donors who are expressing concern about a possible sharp decrease in quality and cohesion…? You’d think there would be. Many small donors have.
Also, a respectful base salary for a new musician in an ensemble that aspires to be one of the greatest chamber orchestras in the world is not $50,000 a year. Especially not in a state where the median income is about $57,000. Sorry. That’s not much more than the musicians would earn if they were teaching privately full-time. Actually, with their training, they could probably make more money teaching full-time, especially if they supplemented with other performance opportunities. According to this website, $50,000 is about what a subway operator, sales representative, or librarian makes a year. And no offense to those good folks, but they didn’t invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into their education and career starting at the age of five. I don’t see how you could realistically aspire to be a super-selective elite world-class musical organization while offering a salary that is not much different to one a teacher could make. What would keep those whip-smart musicians from opting to teach…or heck, becoming very musically talented subway operators, sales representatives, or librarians?
My last hope: management in St. Paul is actually secretly willing to agree to the majority of items in this proposed contract, but they’re waiting for the next set of talks to see how much they can squeeze out before the contract deadline. And then the conflict will end and rainbows will shine and unicorns will fly. Naive? Probably. But I want good news. I’m to the point where I’m getting pissed at other people’s good news, and that’s never a good sign. Chicago Symphony ends their strike? My first grumpy thought: why can’t our strikes last a day? Referee lockout over? Minnesota management would never compromise… Teachers’ strike over? How’d they come to an agreement? What’s their secret? Lucky bastards!
Last night I read about the Atlanta Symphony musicians agreeing to the deep cuts management had proposed…and it devastated me. Especially when I went to the Atlanta Symphony’s Facebook page, and saw their breezy, wildly wildly inappropriate status update: “Let the music begin! A new contract has been ratified and the 2012-13 season will open on October 4. See you soon!” Hey, you know what, Atlanta Symphony? F*** you! It made me wonder what the end-game in Minnesota will look like (ugly, probably), and when it will come. It’s clear that management doesn’t respect their musicians, or even understand what the word “respect” means. How can we as a community show that as passionate music lovers we do? How can we pressure all those who have treated others so rudely to go away? How can we encourage incompetent people to step down, and competent ones to step up? How can we patrons help to rebuild whatever long-term damage may result from the toxic environment that managements have so unnecessarily fostered? How do we make sure we don’t become so entrenched on the musicians’ side that we can’t recognize healthy compromise when we see it? I want to know what I can do to help. I want to keep as many of these people in the Twin Cities as I can, and I want them to have careers that are as satisfying to them as those careers are to me.
For a laugh, here’s the most useless discussion I’ve read yet about this entire fiasco. (And trust me, I’ve been in the Strib comment section, so I’ve read some useless discussion.) I mention it here solely for entertainment’s sake. It starts with the assertion that (I’m paraphrasing) “hey musicians, you’re spoiled, coddled, childish brats – but no disrespect intended!”…and it goes on from there. We hear that “when the rich have money, they give it away. When they lose money, they don’t.” This makes total sense, since according to the New York Times, in the United States, “The bottom 99% received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.” Yes, that certainly does explain why orchestras have been doing so well post-2010! And then we also hear that Minnesota has “canceled opening concerts due to lack of funding or, due to unresolved contract negotiations, enforced a musicians’ lockout.” Fascinating. Someone has clearly opened a portal to the future! Can I hop through to see how this all ends?? There may be some worthy points hidden deep in the essay…somewhere…but in the face of such monumentally lazy writing, I’m not keen on making the effort to dig them up. Dear commentators: if you are going to write stuff like this, or post stuff like this, please make sure the text you’re about to post is free of fundamentally basic errors. Otherwise, you lose your audience before you begin, even if you do have some good points to offer. Surely Mr. Lebrecht knows that Minnesota isn’t actually locked out (yet). If he doesn’t, that’s unsettling, because even I know what’s happening at all the major orchestras, and I don’t comment on orchestras for a living.
In an attempt to get away from all this frustrating news, I watched a couple Daily Show episodes, and watched this interview with Bill Clinton. And I was surprised to find that what he said applies, in a certain way, to this whole orchestral apocalypse. Bolds mine, obviously.
I think… Just forget about politics. Just think about any time in your life, [when] you’ve been confused or angry or frightened or resentful or anything and you didn’t know what was going on. In those moments, explanation is way more important than eloquence, and rhetoric falls on deaf ears. So the only chance I had to get anybody to really listen was to say, “Here, look, this is what I think happened – boom boom boom boom – and one of my favorite responses came from a guy, he said, I’m a conservative Republican, and I never voted for Clinton. I never even thought he was eloquent. But he treated me like a grown-up, and I appreciated that. I felt like we could sit down and have a conversation. People need to be told… The American people are plenty smart enough to figure all this out…
I think the American people take this election seriously. They know they have to make choices that will affect their lives, and it’s not very helpful if you take up their time and you don’t explain what those choices are…
So I wanted to try to explain that in simple terms. No one else would do that. No one…unless you were being driven by ideology instead of by evidence… This is a practical country. We have ideals – we have philosophies - but the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mole the evidence to get the answer you’ve already decided you’ve got to have. It doesn’t work that way. Building an economy, rebuilding an economy, is hard, practical, nuts and bolt work. You have to look at what the competition is doing; you have to look at what the factors resisting growth are; you have to look at the strengths of the country. This country has enormous assets that most of our competitors don’t have…
This economics is not ideology. It’s hard work. And it’s seeing what the competition’s doing, it’s analyzing the alternatives… [Jon Stewart: Results-oriented. Merit-oriented.] Yes. That’s what America needs. We need to get the show on the road here and stop all this kind of mindless and fact-free fighting.
Yes, management, I’d be so appreciative if someone could treat musicians and concerned patrons like intelligent adults for once. If someone could answer our questions, and trust us enough to engage in a dialogue, and not leave out inconvenient facts, and not act like our concerns are baseless or naive or irresponsible, and not be condescending or adversarial. That would be so d*** lovely. Thanks.
Some late breaking news:
Contract negotiations continue at orchestras; final offer, counter-proposal, from MPR, 27 September.
Without contract, Minn. Orchestra lockout possible, from MPR, 27 September.
And Minn. Orchestra musicians face lockout if no deal from the Star Tribune, 27 September.
Management at Minnesota has also posted their most recent contract.
Sooooooooooooo, looks like the Minnesota Orchestra is headed toward a lockout. They meet on Saturday on whether to accept the contract (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the vote will be NO), and are requesting to meet with management on Sunday. After that…let the silence begin!
And so we’ve come full-circle. I offer you some melancholy music:
*drinks more alcohol*
Head on down to the comment section if you want to engage in some group therapy.
Not too much news yet this morning, besides this excellent blog from Drew McManus called “Keep Your Eye on the Details in Minnesota.” He notes that management’s transparency concerning their new contract is actually not very transparent at all, since there’s no old contract to compare it to. Amen. Personally I find it insulting that management thinks anything on their website clarifies anything, besides maybe the fact that they think we’re dumbs***s with the reasoning capabilities of five-year-olds. (Idle question: do you think Mr. McManus’s blog will appear under “Industry News“? Or is his blog not as reputable as the anonymous writer’s from the Huffington Post?) (Also: notice that under “Industry News”, management still has a link to an article, “Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians on strike”…days after Chicago came to an agreement. Apparently in Minnesota Orchestra management’s world, that strike is still bitter and ongoing. If that isn’t a blatant example of “mol[ing] the evidence to get the answer you’ve already decided you’ve got to have”, I don’t know what is.)
While I was over at his blog, I hopped over to Mr. McManus’s entry on Atlanta’s concessions, and read this about the St. Louis unrest of 2005…
For example, in St. Louis, the executive overseeing their bitter labor dispute in 2005 left shortly thereafter and following that departure labor relations, along with the organization’s overall health and vitality, began to increase.
I thought this was relevant to the Minnesota situation because a few days ago there was an article in the Star Tribune that drew parallels to the St. Louis dispute, saying that things are better now, and implying they might improve quickly in Minneapolis, too. Well, no wonder the situation is better in St. Louis; it wasn’t made clear in the Strib article that their executive departed. I’d think that before you really start healing the wound, you’d have to kill all the bacteria causing inflammation…right? (And yet Detroit didn’t change leadership after their whole fiasco. So who knows. Might be too early to tell what would be the best course of action. And obviously the situations are different at each orchestra, depending on the power structure, politics, available resources, community, etc., etc.)
Soooooooooo….once again we come around to the question: how can we hold those who are accountable for this toxic atmosphere responsible?
I wanted to share a little anecdote from my personal life… I was speaking the other day to my grandparents about what’s happening with the Minnesota Orchestra. I summarized the situation as neutrally and briefly as possible, explaining that management wanted to cut base salaries by $40,000; that management raised $100 million over the last few years for a fundraising campaign; that what they’ve said over the last couple of years about the orchestra’s financial status contradicts itself; that they are not making an effort to answer questions about those contradictions; and that they have repeatedly refused requests from their musicians for a second opinion on their financial status.
“Well, if I win the Powerball, we’ll give them money,” my grandpa said.
My grandmother’s eyes flashed. “Oh, no, we won’t! Not if they’re mismanaging their funds like that!”
If my grandparents put together the pieces in thirty seconds…might the broader public do the same thing, too…whether there’s any truth to the assumption or not?
30 September (2AM)
I just got home from performing a concert and having a post-concert dinner out and I don’t have time to write much, but I thought I’d leave this here for any morning viewers. (Because I am sleeping in tomorrow! woohoo!)
Minn. Orchestra Musicians Reject Contract – 29 September, CBS Minnesota
Musicians vote down contract proposal – 29 September, Star Tribune
Also, I see someone found this blog today looking for “minnesota orchestra musicians.org 100 questions”. Was it management? Helloooooooooo! Management! We’ve got tea brewing for you! Come back!
The eve of the apocalypse seems as good a time for ever for me to repeat something I haven’t said for a while, and that’s I’m pre-emptively sorry. I’m sorry to anyone I’ve hurt, offended, mis-characterized, misjudged, misunderstood, during the course of the whole fiasco. Unlike certain members of management (cough), I don’t view myself as an infallible human being (since, you know, I’m not). I’m viewing this whole mess from the sidelines via Internet reports, and I obviously don’t have the whole story (stories?). (To be fair, I’ve acknowledged that from the very beginning.) I’m also very upset right now. I’m in music because of the example these people have set for me. I haven’t met most of them, and yet they’re some of the most influential people in my life. And of course anyone who sees their heroes being threatened immediately gets testy and defensive, sometimes unreasonably so. (I’m sure even Michael Henson, Dobson West, Jon Campbell, and Richard Davis would!) A certain lack of perspective in such a situation is sadly inevitable. I also tend to lash out with sarcasm when I’m pissed, and then come to regret it later. Soooo, if you ever think I’m flying off the handle, please be clear and say so, and pull me aside and tell me that I need to take a step back for a bit. I’d appreciate that. I’d appreciate it even more if you could do it politely, because my nerves are rather frayed right now. Thank you kindly, darlings. I’ll try my best to keep my temper under control and to stay open to all respectful, reasonable positions.
I also want to remind people that as this conflict gets more and more and more (and more) technical over the coming weeks (months?), I’m going to be less and less and less (and less) qualified to understand what’s really going on. (Only someone with the qualifications of, say, Drew McManus will be able to read the tea leaves with any authority, and that will likely be difficult even for him, since he’s just as much of an outsider to this situation as I am.) So remember to take everything I say with not just a grain of salt, but with a salt mine, as I said in an earlier entry. I started this blogging project a month ago knowing absolutely nothing about how orchestra contracts are negotiated. Although I’ve been dropped into an intense crash course on orchestral politics, and I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time, I still don’t know a tremendous amount about how the whole labyrinthine system works, and so I’m learning as I go along. (Embarrassingly publicly, as it turns out…) But I hope you’ll be patient and come along with me, anyway. Experts out there, feel free to weigh in. The comment section is always open. As these situations get more and more complicated and emotional, I’d like for this blog to be less me blabbing and offering my snarky profane non-expert opinion, and more of a place for concerned patrons to gather and discuss and ponder in a reasonable intelligent way…since management has sadly refused to provide such a place for us. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra website can’t really be much of a clearinghouse, either, for obvious reasons.
(Which isn’t to say I won’t resist sharing my opinions entirely. Surely y’all know by now I’m incapable of not sharing opinions! )
More of those non-expert opinions thoughts tomorrow. Hope you had sweet dreams last night. It’s 2AM here, so probably time for me to head to bed. I’m hoping for dreams of a happy resolution, where we discover that the Twin Cities can somehow love and support two world-class orchestras.
30 September 2012
Well, last night’s early-morning entry is looking a bit prophetic on my part, as the Minnesota Orchestra musicians have just announced their intention to seek binding arbitration to settle their contract dispute, and this is the first step in this entire drama that I feel wholly unqualified to speak a single word on. I think I last heard the phrase “binding arbitration” in my ninth grade civics class, and that was nearly ten years ago, so for those of us who need a little refresher course…
Binding Arbitration: The submission of a dispute to an unbiased third person designated by the parties to the controversy, who agree in advance to comply with the award—a decision to be issued after a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.
Arbitration is a well-established and widely used means to end disputes. It is one of several kinds of Alternative Dispute Resolution, which provide parties to a controversy with a choice other than litigation. Unlike litigation, arbitration takes place out of court: the two sides select an impartial third party, known as an arbitrator; agree in advance to comply with the arbitrator’s award; and then participate in a hearing at which both sides can present evidence and testimony. The arbitrator’s decision is usually final, and courts rarely reexamine it.
Lots of people have strong opinions about unions and binding arbitration. When you Google “binding arbitration union”, there’s lots of stuff about binding arbitration and public sector unions. (A lot of people who don’t like public sector unions don’t like binding arbitration; many claim the decisions that come out of arbitration are too favorable to them.) So I tried “binding arbitration union -public.” Here’s an article discussing how American Airlines unions sought binding arbitration earlier this year; it claims that unions usually don’t like binding arbitration. (But in this particular instance, American was nearing bankruptcy, which, as I understand it, could have led to the possibility of the airline being able to reject the union contracts entirely, so in this case, binding arbitration was better than nothing.)
There’s less when you look up “binding arbitration union orchestra.” The first story that comes up is the great Louisville Symphony Debacle (LSD). There, however, it was management who suggested binding arbitration, and then only after many months of contentious negotiations. Detroit musicians offered binding arbitration only after five difficult months of striking, and only reluctantly. In March the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony signed a contract that allows for musicians and management to enter binding arbitration if they disagree on salary in 2014. Other than that, I can’t find record of a group of professional orchestra musicians who have offered binding arbitration before the work stoppage actually started. Let me know if there was one at some point, because I’m not finding it.
Feel free to take a moment to giggle at my lack of knowledge. At least I admit my limitations. And can Google.
I don’t know if this is the case or not, but it feels as if the musicians knew this was coming…doesn’t it? It feels as though they – or their PR team, or both – have studied other orchestras’ meltdowns and are making their decisions with their missteps in mind. The one time during this whole fiasco that I felt they were thrown maybe a little bit off their game was back when management released their contract without telling them. By being the ones to first mention the possibility of playing and talking, and the first to suggest binding arbitration before the lockout even began (an option the Louisville and Detroit managements would have loved), that really makes the musicians look ready for reasonable compromise, and demonstrates an affection and concern for their audience…an affection and concern we haven’t heard much of from management. I’ve also been very happy over the last few days to see the musicians really clarifying why they haven’t offered a counter-proposal (because they lack the necessary information to make an informed one). That explanation has been in nearly every article lately, and it’s good to hear; for a long while there, I think it just seemed to casual readers as if the musicians were unwilling to engage, rather than merely waiting on a request for financial information.
And before we’d barely had time to swallow this, much less digest it, we hear that management has rejected both the orchestra musicians’ offers to “play and talk” and to go through binding arbitration. Waiting to hear a response from management now… I can’t wait to hear Michael Henson come up with new and exciting ways to demonize the men and women whose talents he relies on for his exorbitant paychecks! Bless their hearts, but Davis and Campbell aren’t quite as entertaining on the hypocrisy scale.
I wonder: if Minnesota board wanted to come across as the most incompetent, most oblivious, most tone-deaf entity imaginable, what would they do differently? Maybe hire outside musicians a la the LSD situation, but otherwise… Not much. (And you know, at this point, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see them trying to hire outside musicians. The effort would fail miserably, but I can see management trying it in some capacity anyway, since they don’t really seem particularly concerned about the quality of the orchestra. I pray to God this doesn’t actually happen, but if it does, I urge all qualified players to show up for the job and then launch into your best impersonation of the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Then maybe, if we’re very lucky, we could get Anna Karkowska to solo with the Minnesota Replacement Orchestra! And then we could force management to sit through two hours of it! On second thought, let’s make it ten! While we’re employing non-union musicians, we might as well make the most of them! Hey, let’s do the Ring Cycle for kicks, with no breaks in between, and see how low our artistic quality can get! It’s the Orchestral Quality Limbo Stick Game! Catchphrase: how low can you go while you’re locking out the very best? Fun for the whole community! Woohoo!)
I feel badly about this, but I’m starting to feel the SPCO story slipping away from me. I’ll still keep posting links to articles about the situation, but things have flown back and forth so quickly lately there that I’m forgetting what offer was made when and what was said and who wants $77,000 here and who wants $50,000 there and was that base or including overscale or proposal number two or rejected proposal number three, etc., etc., etc. My brain can’t keep up with the limited amount of time I have to blog. That doesn’t mean I support the musicians or the organization or an equitable solution to that crisis any less; I just feel I have less to say about it, because I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable when I’m not. Maybe if the SPCO comes to an impasse, I’ll get time to breathe and study the details of what has all been going on there lately. However, for now I think I’m going to have to focus primarily on Minnesota situation; I’ve just spent more time with it lately, and it’s easier for me to keep up with. Of course if you want to discuss the SPCO meltdown in the comments, you’re welcome to, and I’ll try to engage with you as best I can!
News stories/blogs that have surfaced lately:
Musicians veto deal in Mpls. as SPCO rejects contract extension – KARE, 4:20PM, 30 September (strangely, this article is actually from MPR, though)
Minn. Orchestra musicians seek arbitration – MPR, 30 September
10,000 lakes, one fish, and no settlements – Robert Levine, Polyphonic
I’m going to start a new page called “Orchestral Apocalypse Index.” It will consist of links to all the pro- and anti-management articles and blog entries I’ve found. That way you can have the tools you need to begin making decisions about who and what to support, and you won’t need to wade through my wordy profane blather. If the article is halfway intelligent, and not just some anonymous dude on his blog going “zomg lyke musicians suckkk and r wayyyy 2 overpAID”, I’ll include a link to it. Additional submissions of links to blogs or articles I may have missed will be welcome in the comment section. So keep an eye out for that.