Perhaps Chairman Smoot Wants A Strike

Ever since the POA launched their public relations campaign to promote their side of the contract negotiations I’ve wondered why board chairman, Richard Smoot, took such a hard line position so quickly.  Unfortunately, I can only speculate as to why.  I’m still waiting to hear back from the POA spokesman, Steve Albertini, with an answer to that question and others; hopefully I’ll hear something soon. 

But I feel that chairman Smoot’s hard line stance points toward one strong possibility: the POA actually wants the musicians to go on strike.  Consider this:

  1. The POA has been asking for $1.8 million dollars in concessions in order to qualify for the $50 million grant being offered from the Annenberg Foundation.
  2. In 1996, the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians went on strike for 64 days, which resulted in saving the POA $2 million in associated labor expenses that year.

In nearly every case involving an orchestra player’s strike, it’s the management that holds the power to offer some sort of egress. But if this contract isn’t settled and the players strike, all management needs to do is wait until the POA saves the needed $1.8 million for this season and then decide to settle.

But who wins in this situation?  Do the players win because the POA eventually gives in to most of their demands?  Does the POA win because they dilute the effectiveness of a labor strike against the organization and end up saving the $1.8 million dollars they’ve been asking for all along?

The answer is “no one wins”. Forcing the musicians into striking is as pointless as irritating a neighborhood dog until it attacks you.  From that point on, whenever the dog sees you it’s going to look at you with hatred and distrust your every gesture. 

Additionally, your neighbors will come to know you as nothing more than shortsighted sadistic bully who is content with behaving in a reprehensible manner just to satisfy a perceived need in the present.

I sooner expect to win the lottery before anyone from the POA would ever admit to such a strategy, but it is something the musicians and the Philadelphia Orchestra patrons should consider. 

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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