Breaking News From St. Louis About Unemployment

Recently, the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations issued an initial ruling on the issue of whether or not the negotiation impasse between the musicians and management of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra resulted in a strike or a lock out.

According to Tammy Cavender, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations, a Deputy from the Division of Employment Security (the department responsible for overseeing unemployment insurance) has determined that according to Missouri Revised Statue Section 288.040 which determines the rules for ineligibility if the claimant is unemployed due to a stoppage of work caused by a labor dispute in the factory, establishment, or premises in which he was last employed, work stoppage is a strike and, therefore, the musicians do not qualify for unemployment benefits.

When asked to describe this process, Ms. Cavender said,

“Individual employees file for unemployment insurance benefits.  If we find that a number of claims are coming from individuals who are members of the same labor union and related to the same circumstance we keep those together and one of our Deputies is then responsible for contacting the employer and union representatives to determine if the work stoppage is a strike or a lock out.”

When asked about interviewing the Deputy to discover the process they used to make their determination Ms. Cavender said that internal information and documentation related to the case is confidential and the department does not release the identification of the respective Deputy.  Calls to representatives to the SLSO management and union/musician representatives have both gone unanswered at this time; however some parties have indicated that further information is forthcoming.

Appeals & conflict of interest
When asked if there was any internal process used to eliminate any potential conflict of interest among any Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations employee, Ms. Cavender indicated that yes, there was.

She said that according to departmental policy any Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations employee must recuse themselves from a case if they are related to or knows anyone involved in the claim.

Ms. Cavender also verified that the Deputies decision is not the final stage in this process.  Either side involved in the issue may appeal a Deputy’s decision within 30 days of the initial decision.  If that happens, the department will wait until 30 days after the initial Deputy ruling and then establish an appellate hearing which is presided over by a Missouri Division of Employment Security Appeals Referee.  Referees are not Deputies and serve only in the function as Appeal Referees.

Ms. Cavender did say that the process to establish an appellate hearing does take time but during the actual hearing any member employee, union representative, and management representative are invited to attend and offer testimony. 

But even that’s not the final step (far from it).  Either side in the conflict can then appeal the Appeal Referee’s decision and then the matter is moved on to the appropriate Missouri Court of Appeals.  If either side is not pleased with the ruling in that forum they can then take the case to the Missouri State Supreme court.

But wait, there’s more.  At any time in this process either side may petition a federal NLRB court to rule on the issue of whether or not the negotiation impasse resulted in a strike or a lock out.  If that happens, any subsequent ruling by the Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations is considered null and the NLRB ruling is official.

Too late to file?
Regardless of the outcome from any of the steps in the initial claim and appellate process, in order for a musician to be eligible to receive possible unemployment benefits they must already have filed a claim and been included in the original decision passed by the Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations Deputy.

The only exception to this clause is if a musician can show that they were unable to file due to extenuating circumstance such as a death in the family, being out of the country, etc.  That means if any musicians were waiting to file based on the outcome of eligibility, they may be too late.

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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