We Value Your Option (unless it means changing our plans)

Robert Levine, president of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) chairman emeritus, former editor of Senza Sordino (ICSOM’s newsletter), and principal violist of the Milwaukee Symphony [Robert must have an industrial sized business card], posted an intriguing article at his blog about the Jacksonville Symphony negotiations. In his post, Robert compares current events in Jacksonville with his own experiences in Milwaukee when faced with a refusal to move from a pre-set final offer at the onset of negotiations…

Robert provides a history lesson in labor relations to support his points:

Much like our 1993-94 dispute, the fundamental problem here seems to be that management has chosen to “negotiate” in the style of Lemuel Boulware, the legendary labor relations head for GE after WW II. The strategy become known as Boulwarism and, in essence, involved the refusal to move from a pre-set final offer. In the words of the Times:

…the company listened closely to union demands, examined the wages and working conditions of competitors, conducted extensive research on all issues and then put forward a “fair, firm offer,” with nothing held back for future concessions.

…except, of course, that the Jacksonville board seems to have neglected the listening, examination, and research parts.

What’s important to realize here is that final bit. In essence, the bargaining strategy adopted by the Jacksonville Symphony Association (JSA) board denies the musicians any meaningful input on setting the organization’s strategic direction. Instead, it only provides an avenue at the very end of the process to implement the board’s strategy. The following flowchart was constructed based on comments from JSA board members and executive administrators. It illustrates how the JSA designed and implemented their strategic planning process and the outcomes they predicted:



After going over the flowchart, how would you answer the following questions:

  • How does this process encourage and expand musical appreciation in the Jacksonville community?
  • How does this process encourage the organization to provide musical performances of the highest possible artistic quality?
  • How does this process allow the organization to cover the fullest spectrum of orchestra music while bringing enjoyment to as wide and diverse an audience as possible?
  • How does this process allow the organization to address the vital need for music education and its role in the quality of life for everybody by providing education programs for all ages?
  • How does this process allow the organization to enable the Jacksonville community to utilize music as a means to a more relevant and productive life?
  • How does this process provide for the organization to be recognized as a leader in performing arts in the Jacksonville community and the First Coast region?
  • How does this process allow the organization to be recognized as the finest orchestra in Florida bringing credit to the First Coast?
  • How does this process provide for continued wide reorganization for high artistic quality and to be ranked among the nation’s top 40 orchestras in terms of budget size and population served?
  • How does this process encourage and expand musical appreciation in the Jacksonville community?

Hopefully, the JSA board has taken the time to examine these questions since each point is derived faithfully from the organization’s mission statement (as found here, here, and here). How would you answer those questions?

UPDATE 10:57AM CT: According to the Florida Times-Union the Jacksonville musicians will conduct a ratification meeting today to vote on the latest contract proposal.

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 “We Value Your Option (unless it means changing our plans)”

  1. Dear Mr. Levine,

    I enjoyed your comments on the negotiations of the JSO Board and the Musicians. I certainly hope that you will make this information available to our local papers the Times-Union and Folio plus the local news stations.

    I believe the whole Jacksonville community would benefit from and understanding of the process you used in resolving this dispute. It is a model of how problems should be solved in many situations we face every day, including in our business and personal dealings, city government, law enforcement and our school system.

    Thank you,


    Melissa Weihnacht

    PS I wish you had a print function so that I could print this in an environmentally sensitive manner (eg. no wasted or colored inks.)

    Thank you for the suggestion about printing without color, I will look into whether or not TypePad offers something like that. In the meantime, you should be able to set your print defaults to blank and white or grayscale only as well as leaving out images (background or foreground). I bet a reader out there has some useful links folks like Melissa can use that provide step-by-step instructions for a variety of operating systems and printers, hopefully one will write in with the information. ~ Drew McManus

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