Open Season

As we all remember, last season the Detroit Symphony won the race to the bottom in the labor relations/management incompetence sweepstakes. I’m amazed and very sorry to report that apparently the Minnesota Orchestra has decided Detroit didn’t quite go far enough, and has locked out the musicians for the first time in its 100-year historyWith recent developments in Atlanta, Indianapolis and St. Paul, it doesn’t appear that the war on musicians will end anytime soon.

A google search will reveal that many people way more informed than I are feverishly dissecting the Minnesota situation. If you want to get up to speed quickly and comprehensively, one of the best sources is Song of the Larkand in one way or another it includes most of the (still unanswered) questions that occurred to me when the lockout began yesterday. Such as:

* Why was the lockout so carefully anticipated and constructed, if the management was negotiating in good faith? You don’t immediately cancel two months of concerts without some careful planning (although the blowback from patrons may be much more intense than they think).

* How does one characterize a “negotiation”, when the management hasn’t moved from its initial positions presented last April?

* Why is the management so violently opposed to an independent financial audit, given their catastrophic proposals to the musicians? They claim they have their own audits- so did Lehman Brothers. And so does JP Morgan. What’s the orchestra hiding?

* Why did the management immediately dismiss the idea of a mediator? That approach has been very successful in lots of other situations, but usually without the driving force of radical ideology .

* Why are so many proposed changes to the contract work rules simply punitive to the musicians, with no financial element at all?

I could go on. But the point is this: maybe the last contract was overly generous in some respects, maybe things weren’t properly managed in other ways, and everyone needs to share in the sacrifice going forward. But a lockout? 81 musicians and their families instantly lose both their salaries and health insurance (but not management)? The musicians are being demonized because of an economic situation and climate that breeds resentment of anything that can possibly be construed as “expert”, or highly specialized (read “elite”). Same reason the NFL locked out the overpaid, spoiled refs- anyone can do that job, they aren’t so special, right?

For decades, Minnesotans have take pride in the accomplishments and extraordinary talents that make up the state’s most prominent cultural institution. In dramatic contrast, this management and board is out to destroy it, even though they may not quite realize that yet.

We have great respect for our musicians’ talents and today is a difficult day. – Jon Campbell, Board Chair

Our intention now is to get our current players back onstage.- Richard Davis, Chair of the board negotiating team.

With all due respect, that’s just bulls**t, and based on their recent actions they shouldn’t be allowed near any orchestra board. If they cared at all about the institution, both they and CEO Michael Henson would quit acting like North Korean diplomats, get back to the table with a mediator, open the books, and get a deal. And there will be a deal at some point, it’s just a matter of how much they learned (or didn’t learn) from Detroit or (more recently) Atlanta.

In the meantime, anyone that genuinely cares about the Minnesota Orchestra should make themselves heard loud and clear in any way they can.


12 thoughts on “Open Season”

  1. “…apparently the Minnesota Orchestra has decided Detroit didn’t quite go far enough…”

    This is even truer than you know, Frank. Then-board chair Richard Davis actually said exactly those words to the musicians during one of several mandatory lectures scheduled in place of rehearsals over the last two years. Referencing the Philadelphia bankruptcy, he said that the MOA board had determined that bankruptcy was not a good option. Then he said, “And then, you look at the situation in Detroit, where they had a long stoppage and then settled it without finishing the job.” (Emphasis mine.) It was a stunning admission of his principles, and that is why we’ve known for more than a year that this management had absolutely no intention of either coming to an agreement, or in presenting a season in 2012-13. Disgusting.

  2. They backed themselves into a corner by firing so much staff. That’s going to strengthen their resolve, to say the least. They can claim that they’ve made massive sacrifices on the admin side, and so expect the same of the orchestra.

    Negotiating in good faith does not mean you can’t and shouldn’t make contingency plans. But I agree that not moving from your starting offer looks only like one form of negotiation–the playing chicken, irrational finger on the trigger, mutually assured destruction kind.

    Could be a tactic. Could be a willingness to commit suicide if you don’t get your way. It only works if the other side can’t really tell which.

    • The musicians are obviously willing to sacrifice; no one in this business is blind to the overall situation. But this isn’t about negotiation or what’s good for the institution. It’s about the egos and insecurities of a few board members and the CEO that have hijacked the process, and their contempt for a group of people that are really excellent at what they do. They’re not concerned about the Minneapolis arts community or the families so deeply affected by these shameful decisions.

      This was certainly not the only possible course of action. The donor/patron community there is not known for its frugality in support of culture and excellence; quite the contrary (for decades), which is why the MO has been such a point of pride until now. It will be interesting to see if any of the MO’s true friends stand up to these wussy clowns and save the institution.

  3. By planning and executing a major, $90-Million+ renovation of the concert hall, the management in MN appears to be positioning itself for a second career — as the operator of a first-class venue suitable for all sorts of entertainment and performance events, including symphony concerts. If so, they’ve done a wonderful job.

    But, if they still intend to call themselves “the Minnesota Orchestra,” it appears one small detail was forgotten: they still need to have that symphony orchestra and its musicians, without whom the hall would be nearly pointless and would just become yet another gilded roof over a stage without a soul.


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