Breaking News From St. Louis

After speaking with representatives from the Saint Louis Symphony Management and the Player’s Association, more details surrounding the auditions and resulting situation have emerged.

The Auditions
I spoke with Jeff Trammel, Director of Communications for the SLSO and he said that:

  • The orchestra’s management had contacted some of the individual orchestra musicians who were scheduled to serve on the audition committee (the group of musicians responsible for listening to audition candidates).
  • Those audition committee members all indicated that they were willing to work over the two audition dates without a contract for their predetermined audition committee pay (which is already significantly less than their standard pay).
  • Even though the musicians had indicated their acceptance to work without a contract (essentially “play and talk” although “listen and talk” may be more appropriate in this case), the management decided that it was unfair to pay those musicians serving on the audition committee and not pay the remaining SLSO players.
  • The SLSO will be reimbursing the horn and bass audition candidates in full for their travel and hotel expenses, however, they will not be reimbursed for their time and related expenses to preparing for the audition.

I asked Jeff if the management had received any official notification from the musicians regarding any intent to strike and he said that they had not and their only source for information since Sunday has been from media reports.

But this is where the situation becomes odd, how the management would officially know that the musicians were going to strike without any notice from them. Besides the musicians who are required to serve on the audition committees there are no other regularly scheduled services for yesterday or today.

The only thing management can rely on is that the collective bargaining agreement has officially expired and therefore there is nothing in place requiring them to pay any musician for any work.

Strike or Lock Out?
Right now, much of the media coverage out there is reporting that the SLSO musicians have gone on strike. But according to Leonard Leibowitz, Esq., Union Counsel, that isn’t correct.

In a telephone conversation with him today he stated that the musicians expressed their desire and intent to work on January 3rd and 4th for the auditions but management refused to allow them to do so. As a result, this is a lock out due to the players being officially denied work.

I asked Len if the musicians have sent a letter to the SLSO management with any intent to strike based on their vote from Monday and he said no, they haven’t sent any such letter because the musicians agreed to play and talk to make sure the auditions went forward as planned.

This confirms what the SLSO spokesman provided when he said that management has not received any notification of intent to strike or even how the strike vote turned out.

So it appears that the SLSO musicians may very well be locked out of their jobs even though they are willing to work.

Not Just Semantics
Even though the SLSO management may claim that the musicians are refusing to work and the musicians claim the opposite doesn’t mean it’s a case of “their word against ours”.

When talking with Len Leibowitz he provided an example to help illustrate why the SLSO players are locked out. He mentioned that in the early 1980’s when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was going through a similar situation the musicians claimed to be locked out by their management and as a result went to file for unemployment insurance.

In the state of Maryland, workers do not qualify for unemployment benefits if they are on strike but do qualify if they are being locked out. The issue went before the Maryland Unemployment Insurance Board and as a result of their investigation they did determine that, indeed, the Baltimore Symphony musicians were being locked out and therefore qualified for benefits.

In Missouri, they have similar unemployment insurance laws to those in Maryland whereas they distinguish and have criteria to determine if workers are being locked out or on strike. After today, the SLSO musicians have been encouraged by their organizers to file for unemployment benefits and as a result, it seems likely that the matter of whether or not the musicians are either on strike or locked out will be officially determined by a Missouri Unemployment Insurance Board.

In addition to being instructed to file for unemployment insurance, Len confirmed that the Union has filed an Unfair Labor Practice Charges with the Regional Office of the National LaborRelations Board in Saint Louis.

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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