Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Musicians File Unfair Labor Charges

In response to the decision by the PBT Board of Trustees to only use recorded music for the 2005-2006 season, the musicians of the PBT orchestra, and their representing union, AFM Local 60-471, are filing Unfair Labor Charges against the organization…

According to Nathan Kahn, the AFM negotiator representing the musicians, the announcement from the PBT Board of Trustees came as an unwelcome surprise in the midst of negotiations.

“Our negotiations have consistently been characterized by continued bad faith from the Ballet. The [PBT] had already proposed options of using student and non union musicians for performances in addition to pre-recorded music for some productions because they said they couldn’t afford our musicians. We declined those offers because as of the last Profit and Loss Statements they provided, which went up to April 30, 2005, it showed that the PBT was only running a deficit of $109,000 on a more than $6 million budget. When we requested to see the Profit and Loss Statements for the months of May and June, 2005 the PBT refused to provide them.

Even if the situation turns out to be more dire, musicians’ payroll only constitutes 6% of the Ballet’s total expense budget. Therefore, our belief is that this move to use pre-recorded music is not primarily motivated by financial matters. The musicians are therefore locked out and the management is not negotiating in good faith.”

Repeated inquires to PBT Board of Trustees Chair Jeanne Gleason asking whether or not the PBT has released or plans to release their Profit and Loss Statements for the months of May and June, 2005 to the musicians or their representatives went unanswered.

Releasing these statements would go a long way to help alleviate some of the confusion surrounding the figures which have been reported in the media over the past week.

For example, according to reports from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, PBT board president Jeanne Gleason said the organization would save $551,000 on a $6.4 million budget by not using live musicians. This savings far exceeds the last known deficit figure for the PBT as reported by the musician’s account of the organization’s April Profit and Loss Statement. Ms. Gleason’s reported figure even exceeds the 6% of the PBT budget figure ($384,000) the musicians say their services cost the organization.

Another issue which has developed over the course of the this week is whether or not patrons will feel cheated by paying for a subscription they thought would include live music. In an editorial from the 8/4/05 edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the paper calls the removal of live music from PBT productions six months after subscriptions went on sale a “bait and switch” scam.

However, after speaking with Justina Baron, the PBT Ticketing Manager, via telephone on 8/4/05 she said that although their brochure does say “sorry, no refunds” they are in fact offering full refunds to anyone who purchased subscription packages and aren’t pleased about the organization’s decision to eliminate live music. The PBT box Office can be reached by calling 412-456-6666 Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. and Sunday, noon through 6 p.m.

What remains are the very serious aspects related to the issues of money. Is the PBT as bad off financially as they publicly claim? Apparently, the question to ask at this juncture isn’t whether or not there’s enough money but what exactly constitutes “enough”.

These issues are precisely what collective bargaining negotiations have worked to sort out in decades past. However, this situation is the second of two major events this month (the other occurring in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) which demonstrate that although there has been a growing movement to create a new environment regarding musician/management relations outside of contract negotiations, when push comes to shove the legal authority continues to remain with the board. And some boards apparently have no problem exercising that authority.

By filing the Unfair Labor Charges in the local Pittsburgh NLRB office, the musicians have demonstrated that they too are prepared to exercise their legal rights. From here on out, the NLRB courts may decide whether or not the PBT will use live or pre-recorded music for their 2005-2006 productions.

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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