Life After Near Death In Detroit?

Yesterday’s announcement from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) musicians about their willingness to return to work without a contract is the closest thing the group has had to hope in some time. But before everyone begins rejoicing, there are conditions in the form of both sides agreeing to binding arbitration as a means to an end for the five month old strike…

At yesterday’s press conference, the musicians reportedly elaborated on their offer to return to work without a contract under the condition that the DSO agrees to binding arbitration. Moreover, the musicians suggested an arbitration process overseen by a board of three arbiters; one selected by the musicians, one selected by management, and the third selected by the initial two arbiters.

WQXR news posted an article on 3/1/2011 by Caroline Cooper and Brian Wise that examines the developments and includes my reaction to the news and after a good night’s sleep, I continue to believe that there’s some real potential here.

Likewise, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News reported that management’s initial response was positive and that they looked forward to discussing the details.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the devil is in the details and there are plenty of items to discuss but compared to the negotiations to date, these should seem like a piece of cake. The 3/1/2011 Detroit Free Press article by Mark Stryker touched on a particularly meaningful point in the musicians’ proposal in the form of shared risk.

If both sides agree to the process, they stand to lose ground on items they’ve publicly drawn lines in the sand over.

At the same time, shared risk also means shared trust so one added benefit to this process, if it gets off the ground, is that it could be the first step toward rebuilding some of the trust that has been squandered during the dispute.

We’ll keep an eye on developments and see what shakes loose.

Postscript: Many thanks to UK based Twitter follower Roger Tomlinson (@BrandinyourHand) for coming up with today’s headline!

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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