Wisconsin Musicians File Unfair Labor Practice Charge

On 10/21/2008, the Musicians of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge (ULP) with the National Labor Relations Board against the association for failing to bargain in good faith…

WCO musicians file ULP charge
WCO musicians file ULP charge

At the heart of the ULP are the conditions under which the WCO presented its latest offer. The musicians provided a copy of the exact language in the last WCO proposal that prompted the ULP charge:

The attached proposal is expressly made to quickly resolve negotiations and result in a contract. If the proposal is not accepted, or in the event that a further work stoppage should cause the cancellation of any services in the month of November, including rehearsals or performances, the Employer intends to submit an alternative proposal. Unit employees and the Union should expect that the items in this proposal will not be included in the alternative proposal.

From the musicians’ perspective, this was an implied threat that if they didn’t accept the current offer, any future offers would contain harsher terms. When asked to confirm this language and whether or not the WCO was indeed implying what the musicians inferred, WCO executive director, Doug Gerhart, did not respond to multiple inquires.

However, in a WCO press release from 10/1/08, Gerhart was quoted as saying “It is frustrating to be engaged in a bargaining process where there are no assurances that new concessions will result in a signed contract.” Of course, it depends on what sort of concessions Gerhart is referring to since the musicians have been claiming that the WCO refuses to engage them on terms the musicians wish to address related to the non-economic issues of attendance and artistic dismissal.

If Gerhart’s position has not changed since that statement, then it seems clear that there is a fundamental disconnect between which issues the WCO believes are most important to musicians. As for now, if the WCO plans to enforce the conditions included in their last offer then they will present an alternative proposal on or about 11/25/08 (the earliest scheduled service date for the month of November) that may or may not contain harsher terms than their most recent offer.

In the meantime, the WCO musicians published a point by point response at their website to claims made in WCO press statements and letters from Gerhart while the most recent news on the WCO website is a press release from 10/14/2008.

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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