An Interesting Take On The WCO

Robert Levine posted an intriguing piece over at Abu Bratsche on 3/6/2009 regarding ongoing developments with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) negotiations. Never the dull writer, Robert launches the post with this gem, “Labor disputes never bring out the best in employers, and orchestras are no exception.”…

Levine’s First Law: All institutions are run for the benefit of those who run them.
"Levine’s First Law: All institutions are run for the benefit of those who run them."

Robert goes on to point out that he thinks it looks like the WCO is making use of regressive bargaining practices by removing previous offers on service guarantees and replacing them with proposed a 40 percent reduction (and the option of up to 54 percent) in guaranteed services. Robert also points out that based on the article he referenced (which appeared in the 3/4/09 edition of, it doesn’t appear that the organization’s executive director plans to reduce his compensation in tandem with proposed musician cuts.

“Even more respectful is the lack of any hint that Gerhart’s income from the WCO is going to drop by a penny, much less by the percentage he proposes to slash out of the income of his per-service workers. And yet his workload would diminish significantly by cutting the number of performances, no? So how about making him equally “well-compensated” proportionally to the amount of product he’s supervising?”

It doesn’t take much to uncover that, historically, concessions in this business are best obtained by instituting a sincere policy of shared pain. In fact, this was the second point in a list of guidelines I created for a meaningful approach to concessions. In a related issue here, the WCO has yet to offer any details behind their latest round of what Robert defines as regressive offers. So in order to learn more I contacted the Daniel A. Kaplan, the attorney representing the WCO for these negotiations, and asked him whether or not any members of management or the music director taken a reduction in compensation during the 2008/2009 season or plan to take a reduction in compensation during the 2009/10 season along with details behind their latest bargaining proposal.

Although Mr. Kaplan has acknowledged receipt of the questions he has not yet responded. Nonetheless, I’m sure all of Adaptistration’s readers will be interested in learning more behind the WCO’s reasoning and hopefully, Mr. Kaplan will be able to shed some light on these matters by the end of the week.

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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3 thoughts on “An Interesting Take On The WCO”

  1. With all due respect to Robert and not wanting the perception to be that I have Gerhart’s back, I must disagree with Robert on one point. While performances are almost non-existent at this time, I would certainly hope he is putting just as many hours into the job dealing with fund-raising, talking to donors to instill trust that their money is not being thrown away. To say that his pay should be cut because the WCO isn’t putting on as many performances and therefore he isn’t working as hard is a little irresponsible.

    Now having said that, I do believe it would be in Mr. Gerhart’s best interest to take a paycut along with other senior staff members. Otherwise, he appears on the surface to be acting just like many banking executives who took the money from the government and still gave themselves huge bonuses. Perception is everything folks!

  2. Well, we’re at the end of the week. Any response from Mr. Kaplan? One would think that a short email reply stating either yes, they will be taking pay cuts or no, they won’t would only require a few minutes of Mr. Kaplan’s time. Keep the WCO in your crosshairs!

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