In Columbus, The War Of The Rhetoric Begins

Updated 10:30 a.m. CT: The 3/14/2008 edition of the Columbus Dispatch published an article by Michael Grossberg which included some of the first volleys of traditional rhetoric usually reserved for contentious labor negotiations. In particular, the article reports that Tony Beadle, Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Executive Director, accused the Columbus Symphony Orchestra Musicians’ Association of "rebuffing" the CSO board’s recent efforts to meet with the musicians thereby jeopardizing crucial fundraising efforts. However, the article fails to report that the musicians never received a formal notice to initiate negotiations from the CSO board until the beginning of the week of 3/9/2008. Furthermore, the musicians accepted the request and notified the CSO board on 3/13/2008 that they would be willing to meet with them with counsel for the initial bargaining session as early as today, 3/16/2008…

Given the fact that the Dispatch article
was published on Friday, 3/14/2008 it is unfortunate that they failed
to include this information (or even publish an update in the online
version). If they had, it would have portrayed the CSO board and
musicians as eager participants in initiating the negotiation process
as quickly as possible. Instead, the version of the article which went
to print implies that Tony Beadle is accusing the musicians of
intentionally delaying the negotiation process.

After reading the Dispatch article on 3/14/2008 I contacted
Tony Beadle and Douglas Fisher, CSO bassoonist and President of the
Central Ohio Federation of Musicians, to inquire about the status of
negotiations and to determine when the CSO officially initiated the
negotiation process. Tony Beadle has yet to respond [see update below] but Fisher
responded via email to verify that the CSO board’s official
communication to initiate negotiations was received by the musicians
this past week and that was the first such notice they have received
since the CSO board released its proposed financial plan on 1/8/2008.
As of Friday, 3/14/2008, Fisher indicated that the musicians have yet
to hear back from the CSO board about meeting today or tomorrow.

The apparent contradictions between what was reported by the
Dispatch on 3/14/2008 and what the musicians have indicated prompted
the Columbus Symphony Orchestra Musicians to post a concise and
strongly worded notice at their website
on 3/15/2008 questioning the Dispatch’s balance of coverage on issues
related to negotiations, in particular, and the CSO, in general. At
this point in time, given the animosity generated by the Dispatch’s
article, Beadle and the CSO board could go a long way toward defusing
the situation and building some much needed goodwill with the musicians
if they released an official statement indicating that the Dispatch
article had erroneously portrayed the timeline behind the current
negotiation process.

In particular, Beadle will need to clarify his quote from the
3/14/2008 article which states "If the musicians adopt a
business-as-usual strategy for negotiating, we won’t see them for a
while. But if they want to get ahead of the current impasse, they’ll
respond" which, in its reported form, is either inaccurate or taken out
of chronological context. When asked whether or not the CSO board’s
official request to initiate negotiations proposed using any bargaining
techniques outside of traditional bargaining, Beadle did not respond [see update below].
However, when asked the same question Fisher said the board’s request
made no mention of using any non-traditional techniques.

It would be good for all sides involved in Columbus’ situation to learn
from Louisville’s labor crisis in 2006. In particular, one of the
conditions existing in Louisville at that time was a board of directors
and an executive director that collectively possessed a debilitating
lack of understanding of the bargaining process as it relates to
professional orchestras. Based on the information reported in the
3/14/2008 edition of the Columbus Dispatch, the CSO board and executive
leadership are displaying some of the very same characteristics. In
order to build confidence throughout their community, they’ll need to
take swift action to demonstrate they won’t be making the same mistakes
as their Louisville counterparts from 2006.

UPDATE 3/17/2008
10:30 a.m. CT
: CSO Executive Director, Tony Beadle, has confirmed that the CSO board did officially contact the CSO
musicians for the first time during the week of 3/9/2008 and that the musicians
responded a few days thereafter. Furthermore, the CSO board made no special request the use of any special bargaining techniques outside of traditional bargaining. Both sides have agreed to conduct the initial
bargaining meeting on Tuesday, 3/18/2008.

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 “In Columbus, The War Of The Rhetoric Begins”

  1. I do hope that at least at this moment that the news of what is happening is reported in the Dispatch. I would think that in terms of the health of the community that the Dispatch would understand that they are more careful in what they display.

    Thanks for that comment Lance, keep your eyes out for tomorrow’s Adaptistration which will focus on some of what is being reported in the Dispatch as well as what isn’t making it to print. ~ Drew McManus

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