Detroit Goes Public

After months of closed door and blackout negotiations, the musicians and management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) went public last week to present their bargaining positions. On 7/30/2010, the DSO musicians leafleted a Meadow Brook Music Festival performance (copy, courtesy of the Detroit News) and both sides have presented their positions via an article by Lawrence B. Johnson in the 7/31/2010 edition of the Detroit News…

"Eliminate tenure?" Them is fightin' words.

For the most part, Johnson’s article reports no real surprises in either side’s position. So far, it does appear that both sides are looking for and willing to provide steep cuts in compensation and benefits but the main difference is the musicians assert that these concessions be more or less temporary in nature while management claims they become permanent adjustment.

But what should catch everyone’s attention here is that the DSO is proposing to eliminate tenure and completely restructure musician job descriptions to require a large amount of non-playing responsibilities. The caveat here is this proposal only goes into effect, if the musicians fail to accept a separate proposal by August 28, 2010 which does not include those provisions. Set aside that the union representing the DSO musicians will likely file an unfair labor practice charge over that bargaining position, the very notion of eliminating tenure as a fundamental negotiation position is tantamount to collective bargaining fighting words.

Consequently, if the DSO maintains eliminating tenure as a fundamental tenet for financial and institutional stability, it will be interesting to see how this will be quantifiably justified.

In the meantime, you can follow positions at the DSO and musician websites:

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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