In Richardson, The Battle Begins

It seems that the board of the Richardson Symphony Orchestra (RSO) has decided to discontinue bargaining with their musicians in advance of the current collective bargaining agreement expiration date of August 31, 2010. They also informed patrons in a letter dated 7/1/2010 that in addition to suspending negotiations, they “will not be renegotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Musician.” UPDATE: 4:00pm CT,  7/2/2010 – AFM places Richardson Symphony Orchestra on their International Unfair List…

The following is a copy of the RSO board letter forwarded to me by an RSO patron:

July 1, 2010

Dear Friends of the Richardson Symphony:

On behalf of the Board of Directors and the staff at the RSO, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all you’ve done to support the Richardson Symphony this past year and for your help in making possible the beautiful concerts we’ve all enjoyed. We know it’s been a challenging year for you, as it has been for the Richardson Symphony, and we acknowledge the important role that each of you played in helping your orchestra through these difficult times.

As we reported to the Board of Directors at our last meeting on June 21, we do anticipate better financial days ahead. In fact, the RSO may end this year with a small surplus (but not enough to make up for our over $100,000 deficit last year, unfortunately) and we have planned next year to also end in a surplus so that we can continue to work to pay off all indebtedness. It is our goal to get the RSO out of the hole and into the position where we can start building a significant cash reserve by the end of our 2011-2012 season—our 50th year!.

There is also a major strategic review underway that will likely lead to a very different Richardson Symphony…one that is much better positioned to grow and prosper in the coming years. This may mean “rebranding” the orchestra, playing in different venues, a different mix of concert types and many other changes that we can’t even imagine at this point. At the end of this review, we will emerge a stronger, more relevant and more exciting orchestra for our audiences for the next 50 years!

Some of these changes have already begun and we wanted to let our friends and supporters know of a major item coming up this summer: For the 2010-2011 season and beyond, we will not be renegotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Musicians. Rather, we will ask each musician to execute a personal services agreement directly with the RSO. This means that, after the current union contract expires on August 31st, the RSO will become a non-union orchestra. Please note that each musician will be offered the same rate of pay that they were getting under the union contract.

This new arrangement offers a variety of benefits to the RSO and to its musicians:

  1. Improves communications between players, orchestra management, and the Board;
  2. The opportunity for more work for each musician as we work to increase our contract performance business;
  3. Flexibility for the RSO to take advantage of opportunities from changing market conditions;
  4. Greater opportunities for taking advantage of new and different ways of distributing our concerts and
  5. Perhaps most important, an opportunity for us all to build true esprit d’corp and pride in the RSO and to work together to make our performances better and better each and every year.

As the RSO becomes a non-union orchestra, we fully expect there to be some players who will not want this change to take place. We should all expect for there to be leafleting and other union demonstrations at our concerts coming up this fall. However, we are committed to this course and believe it is the very best decision for the long-term health and vitality of the symphony. We will keep you apprised of any developments on this matter, as well as other changes and opportunities we may be facing as they come along.

In the meantime, should you have any questions or wish to discuss any of these matters in greater detail, just give me a call. I’ll be glad to talk with you at anytime.

All the best,

Jim Pierce
Chairman

Although there is no official response to the letter above from the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), the Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association Local 72-147 of the American Federation of Musicians, the office which represents the RSO musicians, issued the following news memo on 7/1/2010 detailing an incident on 6/30/2010 where three of its representatives were barred from attending an orchestra meeting by local police (in response to requests from RSO management):

NEWS MEMO

INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITY

POLICE BARRED ORCHESTRA REPS AT RSO MEETING LAST NITE

RICHARDSON SYMPHONY BOARD: “NO MORE UNION CONTRACT”

UNION WANTS RSO PLACED ON INTERNATIONAL UNFAIR LIST

WHO: Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association, affiliated Local 72-147 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents more than 1700 professional musicians across North Texas and Southern Oklahoma, including musicians of the Dallas and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestras, The Dallas Opera Orchestra and the Richardson Symphony Orchestra.

WHAT: Local 72-147 has requested that the Richardson Symphony, Inc. be placed on the AFM’s International Unfair List.

WHY: RSO management called a June 30 orchestra meeting at the offices of Alliance Data in Richardson, purportedly to discuss “structural changes” to its operations. Union representatives Ray Hair, Karen Schnackenberg and Principal trumpeter Bert Truax showed up but were barred from the meeting by a sheriff’s deputy who called Dallas Police to the scene. Police, acting on RSO’s orders, refused to allow union reps and orchestra member Truax into the meeting despite the existence of a collective bargaining agreement between RSO and the musicians’ union designating Local 72-147 as the orchestra’s exclusive representative. RSO members in attendance reported that management officials said the meeting was called to repudiate the company’s contractual relationship with the union, and to advise that it would refuse to negotiate with the union upon expiration of the existing contract on August 31. RSO’s actions have prompted the union to request RSO’s placement upon the AFM’s International Unfair list, which triggers the possibility of fines of up to $50,000 and/or expulsion for unionists who work for employers so listed. RSO members leafleted concertgoers at a May 8 performance to protest management’s late wage payments – weeks and months delinquent – for most concerts over the past two years. A sound clip of Conductor Anshel Brusilow’s abusive rant
toward principal trumpeter Bert Truax who protested RSO’s shabby treatment toward the orchestra, has drawn worldwide attention toward the struggle by RSO musicians to get paid on time and to rehearse and perform with without insults.

It’s worth noting here that Ray Hair, president of Local 72-147 is also the international president elect of the American Federation of Musicians. Hair was voted into office on 6/24/2010.

We’ll be looking into this as details emerge but in the meantime, you can catch up on other RSO flare-ups from earlier in the season as well as listen to Brusilow’s now infamous rant here.

UPDATE: 4:00pm CT, 7/2/2010

The following letter by Local 72-147 American Federation of Musicians and AFM International President elect Ray Hair was distributed to AFM members on 7/2/2010:

NEWS MEMO

Dear Members,

This is to advise you that Richardson Symphony, Inc., has been placed on the AFM’s International Unfair List, effective July 1, 2010.  Click here to see the official notice posted on our website. Click here to see our press release in the matter.

Effective with this Unfair List placement, AFM members who work for or with RSO are subject to fines of up to $50,000.00 and/or expulsion. If you are presented with a Personal Services Contract for RSO services, please do not sign it. By attempting to obtain your signature on such a contract, RSO is attempting to interfere in your right under the law to engage in concerted union activities, and to minimize its exposure to the consequences of their actions.

Accordingly, we will be contacting current and prospective RSO patrons, supporters, and professional musicians everywhere to publicize the nature of our dispute, to discourage attendance at RSO concerts and to impair and inhibit RSO’s anti-union crusade. We will make it clear to all concerned that by attempting to destroy the orchestra, the RSO is destroying itself.

We will establish primary picket lines and leaflet all RSO services, and we will demonstrate that nothing can withstand the power of our music or hundreds or even thousands of us joined together to resist RSO abuse, and to insist on fairness and justice from Anshel Brusilow, George Landis, RSO’s management and its Board of Directors.

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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19 thoughts on “In Richardson, The Battle Begins

  1. There’s really no good solution here. While I sympathize with the point of unions, the AMF has been so unrelenting in its policies, and sometimes unreasonable in its pricing, that sometimes organizations are actually prevented from presenting the performances they would like to, rather than encouraging music making. Particularly in these difficult times that are putting some organizations out of business entirely, a little more flexibility could go a long way.

  2. Mary,

    Can you cite a specific instance where the AFM, or Local 72-147, has — owing to an unrelenting policy or unreasonable pricing — been obstructionist with the RSO’s music making?

  3. Mary,
    By “pricing,” I assume you are referring to the musicians wages, which were bargained directly with and contractually agreed to by the RSO years ago, and are much less than the AFM’s book rates for symphonic services. The musicians have had to wait anywhere from three to six months for a paycheck, and have nevertheless continued to show up for work. Is a little more of that what you have in mind as far as “flexibility?” Are you offering to contact the musicians’ landlords and mortgage companies on their behalf and request “flexibility?” Moreover, the musicians have been subjected to unconscionable abuse from conductor Anshel Brusilow, who has addressed musicians with language like “you b*tch,” “you’re stupid,” “you are a cancer that needs to be removed,” “you are not worth responding to,” and “you have the mentality of a turtle without a shell.” Is it your contention that this sort of bullying is “encouraging music making?”

    The musicians have legitimate grievances that go beyond economic issues. Unfortunately, the belligerent attitude of the managers calls for the Union to respond with an unrelenting policy of justice and fairness.

  4. Given the sensitivity of the topic, let me jump in here folks and point out that no one is here to beat up on someone else (at least, you shouldn’t be). Always remain respectful and try to avoid directing anger toward one another.

    There is obviously plenty of frustration to go around so feel free to be frank and engage one another on direct points but always be civil.

  5. Agreed.

    Interesting how this came to a head around the time of the big doin’s at both the LOAA and the AFM national conventions. Given that, along with their CEO’s spin to the patrons, slinging jargon around like ‘re-branding’ & ‘relevance,’ one would hope that the courts & NLRB will step in and straighten this out sooner than later. Otherwise, more than a few League members will be be tempted to officially proclaim this “The Richardson Model.”

  6. The issues are not new. Look back to the big unions of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s. Study the UAW, United Steel workers union, Teamsters, and other battles.

    Being a past remember of the UAW, Teachers Union, AFM, Untied Steel Workers Union, and others I have been displaced from employment many times.

    What does it all mean?

    What happens when a company or organization decides to bust the union?

    Usually it has to do with money or profits. Maybe some control, as well as, greed or survival.

    What are the facts, are they really losing money? What is the pay structure of management? Is the spending within a reasonable budget? Is pay percentage, Management vs Union in line or are we seeing greed? Are they drawing revenue, what is the trend? Can the Union and Management come up with a plan that allows unity? If people are positive and work together money will be easier to attain.

    Take a lesson from the Midwest now called the “Rust Belt”. At one time is was the manufacturing mecca for the world. Now it is loaded with memories and empty buildings. They still have the same management in high security building, as well as, constant trips to Mexico and China overseeing production. Where are all those great paying Union jobs, Gone. Where are company profits, UP! Who benefits from those profits, the existing management. I have never seen the Union hold steadfast, they always cave in or divide when things get tough.

    The NLRB doesn’t mean much. The company will just slip some $$$$ under the table in the form of a settlement agreement (gag agreement or purchased silence) and shut them up order. Money can buy the freedom of speech.

    For “The Richardson Model” to become a reality questions need to answered before we allow a new paradigm to take root. What is the real financial situation (facts only)? Will busting the union provide a quality product or will revenue drop? Can management make concessions? Both sides need to do some number crunching and critical thinking. Head butting, games, and an out of control conductor will only devalue the product. Who will make a donation to Adolf or Saddam?

    With that being said maybe management will take a page from the management of the big labor unions of the past that moved the jobs to Mexico and China. Just purchase a bus! They can bus musicians from Mexico for the concerts. Don’t forget to get the conductor enrolled in a Spanish class.

    The “The Richardson Model” certainly will devalue the end product. Will that revenue be able to make the bus payments?

    Finally, make you own decision about this but look deep to know the facts. What is going on is nothing new, history is the key to the future.

  7. The Richardson Symphony Board is following directly in the footsteps of the Dallas Bach Society. Now UNT students might have even more opportunities to undercut area professionals. Unfortunately many of their teachers don’t explain that by crossing picket lines they effectively eliminate the profession they are studying for.

    The Apple store is a good example of how people will line up around the block to pay a premium price for an excellent product that they don’t really need but find indispensible and entertaining.

    Let’s not let the music profession turn into a “day labor” pool.

    Good luck to Richardson musicians!

    Karen Hall

  8. [Rather, we will ask each musician to execute a personal services agreement directly with the RSO. This means that, after the current union contract expires on August 31st, the RSO will become a non-union orchestra. Please note that each musician will be offered the same rate of pay that they were getting under the union contract.]

    This means that each musician will be free to beg management for his/her late pay individually rather than collectively. What a laugh!

  9. As bad as the situation is an has been is putting the RSO on the unfair list going to
    accomplish anything besides protecting nonunion workers from union competition?

  10. Interesting perspective Carol, I wonder what the ratio between union and non-union musicians are in that area. If there aren’t enough of the latter available possessing acceptable artistic levels, it might be moot. If not, then it gets more interesting.

    It also makes me wonder if the RSO is willing to hire players with lower skill sets in order to fill positions. Thanks again for throwing that point out there!

  11. Drew, I can’t give you an exact ratio of union to non-union musicians in the entire area, but I can tell you that the great majority of musicians in the RSO are union members. In the DFW area as a whole, most musicians who aspire to play in any of the higher profile orchestras, i.e. the Dallas Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Dallas Opera, and others, will end up joining the union before doing so. We pride ourselves on having a very strong union in this town, and we encourage as many people as we can to join. Our dues is relatively inexpensive, and the advantages are great.

    If the RSO management does not agree to return to the bargaining table before August 31, and thus remains on the unfair list, they will have a very difficult time filling the positions vacated by union members without resorting to hiring college students or amateurs. However, many of those students are pupils of union musicians in town, and I would therefore seriously doubt that they would risk accepting a position once held by their teachers. This leaves a handful of musicians who have no affiliation with the union, but most are not full-time musicians, so it is very unlikely that their schedules would permit performing in another orchestra.

    This is a very frustrating situation for all of the players, but it is encouraging to read the shows of support and sympathy from our colleagues across the country. And special thanks to you, Drew, for providing this forum and for your wisdom in this situation.

    Brian Brown
    RSO Players’ Committee Chair

  12. Union contract or no would not it be more advantageous for the union to have as many of the RSO spots filled by union members as possible? It could be detrimental to the negotiating position of local 72-147 to have fully functioning and in this case very local nonunion member orchestra as competition. The recent history of Wichita Falls, Lawton, Irving and the most recent The Dallas Bach Society suggest that the RSO will be able to fill the spots albeit with lesser talent for the most part. The Dallas Morning News reviews of the Bach Society however are usually favorable.
    To inform the local members of the situation and let the individual musician decide on whether they want to take the risk of playing for the RSO may be a more prudent course of action than placing the group on the unfair list.

  13. Placement of an orchestra on the International Unfair List occurs when a primary labor dispute exists between management and the union. When the RSO board unilaterally decided to terminate their contract (which incidentally does not expire until August 31, and is still in effect) with the union and deny the players their collective bargaining rights, they placed themselves in a position of a primary labor dispute. The local, in accordance with the national AFM bylaws, has the right to request that the RSO be placed on the unfair list until this dispute is resolved.

    The proverbial ball is in the RSO’s court now. Should they decided to return to the bargaining table and acknowledge the union before the contract expires, they can be removed from the list. Until then, it is the union’s right to inform their members that the orchestra management refuses to bargain collectively with its players.

    For what it’s worth, most players I’ve spoken to would choose to refrain from playing with an orchestra on the unfair list regardless of any right-to-work laws or AFM bylaws. Local 72-147 members tend to stick together and show loyalty and support for one another, which is one of the things I love about my colleagues.

  14. Each individual musician is perfectly free to choose between providing services for the RSO and retaining his or her affiliation with our professional association. The fact that many musicians do not regard resigning from the Union as an advantageous choice speaks to the value of our representation and the solidarity of our membership, and not to any coercion by the Union representatives. Wichita Falls and Lawton went non-union for a time, and when they could not stand it any longer, they came back to us. I sincerely hope that we will be back to the bargaining table with RSO as well.

  15. “For what it’s worth, most players I’ve spoken to would choose to refrain from playing with an orchestra on the unfair list regardless of any right-to-work laws or AFM bylaws. Local 72-147 members tend to stick together and show loyalty and support for one another, which is one of the things I love about my colleagues.”

    Brian then why not let your colleagues decide if they want to play for the RSO and put it to a vote.

  16. The union will have a much better chance of influencing the situation in the RSO and its impact on other groups in the area if the majority of the orchestra’s members are union. Losing the CBA is bad enough does it make sense to throw the jobs away too?

  17. Jennifer, you mentioned that people choose the union because they consider it to be the advantageous choice, not because of any union coercion. While that may appear to be true on surface level, it seems as though when looking deeper, the exact opposite is true.

    In order to perform with any of the upper tier orchestras in the area (i.e. Dallas, Fort Worth, even the Dallas Opera), union membership is, at the least, an unspoken rule. Anyone who is on the sub list for both one of those orchestras and Richardson must make a choice. To a freelance musician, this is not an ideal position.

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