Pre-Deadline Picketing

The musicians and management of the San Antonio Symphony are heading into the home stretch with three days remaining until their current collective bargaining agreement expires, but what happens after the deadline passes…

First off, there are no self fulfilling prophecies and any one of a number of situations could develop. Here are some of the most common alternatives:

Both Sides Come To An Agreement
possibilities01.jpgRegardless of how far apart two sides appear in a labor negotiation, there is always the possibility that both sides can find an agreeable middle ground during the last few days of bargaining. Orchestras have been in tougher negotiating spots before and pulled things out in time so don’t think that can’t happen in San Antonio too.

Both Sides Come To An Agreement, Sorta…
possibilities01a.jpgIn light of some particularly sticky topics such as health care benefits and pensions, some orchestras have utilized a tool that allows both sides to sign an agreement on a majority of issues while leaving one or two narrowly defined topics for further discussion. In these cases, these mini-negotiations are usually defined in a side letter to the newly signed collective bargaining agreement and outline how discussions will continue, if there are any deadlines, etc.

Both Sides Agree To “Play & Talk”
possibilities02.jpgA well used tool by managers and musicians in recent years, “Play & Talk” is exactly what it sounds like; both sides agree that although the collective bargaining agreement has expired they will continue under the terms of the expired contract and conduct business as usual while simultaneously continuing in negotiations (but even those details can be flexible). It is far from a solution and both sides walk a tight rope as they buy time searching for an agreement.

There are no hard and fast rules as to how Play & Talk sessions are implemented; sometimes they have fixed deadlines whereas both parties could also agree to extend the negotiations indefinitely. However, in many cases any agreement produced by these discussions includes some sort of retroactive measures. It isn’t unusual for these negotiation sessions to be mediated.

The Musicians Could Go On Strike
possibilities03.jpgThe musicians could go on strike, refusing to work during scheduled services until they ratify a new collective bargaining agreement. Until that point, musicians will typically engage in legal picketing and leafleting activities while their negotiating committee and management continue to negotiate. In San Antonio’s case, the musicians have already approved a strike if their negotiating committee decides it is the best course of action.

Management Could Lockout The Musicians
possibilities04.jpgManagement could withhold work from the musicians by physically barring them from the workplace until both sides agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. During a lockout, musicians may engage in the same sort of legal picketing and leafleting activities available to them if they went on strike; as such, it is quite common for the media and general public to confuse a lockout with a strike. Regardless, the end result is usually the same for patrons: no concerts.

As for now, the San Antonio Symphony musicians have decided to spend the final days of their contract engaged in what they defined in a recent Press Release as “exercising their right to freedom of speech to get their message out to the public” by conducting informational picketing in front of the Majestic Theater (their primary performance venue). According to the Press Release, the musicians “can be found with picket signs that say “Support the Symphony Musicians” and “Stand With the Musicians” between the hours of 1:00p.m. – 3:00p.m. CT.

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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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1 thought on “Pre-Deadline Picketing”

  1. Do you know if there’s a general model for predicting how patrons will react to a contentious labor dispute? Are ticketbuyers and donors statistically more likely to side with the management or with the musicians, and are there key variables that have a lot of impact on which way the public goes? Do contentious labor disputes tend to have an effect on future ticket sales and/or giving, and does a work stoppage increase this effect?

    Or are there simply too many competing factors for generalizations to be reasonable?

    I’m not aware of any studies which document how patrons respond to orchestra musicians picketing, if anyone is aware of such a study, I would be interested in it. Nevertheless, my observations have been that there is always a split between those who support the players, those who don’t and those who stay out of it or simply have no opinion.

    That being said, there is ample evidence that picketing has been an effective tool for musicians – historically and in recent times. One of the more recent events was the picketing action implemented by the musicians in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. In the end, I think every situation has enough unique variables to prevent any sort of universal conclusions/predictions so I would say the best advice would be to adopt a “your mileage may vary” attitude. ~ Drew McManus

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Pre-Deadline Picketing