An All Around Day Of Downer News

A few items of note to point today: the first from Detroit where it seems like both sides in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) dispute are having some trouble working through the necessary issues in order to even consider arbitration. And by trouble, I mean a continuation of the same fundamental separation on the most critical issues related to the season killing work stoppage…

The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News recently published articles about the exchange. The Free Press article by Mark Stryker includes some frank comments from management and musicians’ lawyers which indicates the idea of arbitration will likely die due to an unwillingness to include any components that impact financial obligations.

[Management attorney Bernard] Plum said there were so many details that affected the economics of the deal that it was impossible to say exactly which issues management would be willing to arbitrate and which they wouldn’t. Those were subjects for negotiation, he said.

“This is a complicated circumstance,” he said.”We would be throwing most of the collective bargaining issues to arbitrators, and all the issues that we think are important about the future of the orchestra in the hands of a third party.

“We’re not going to put ourselves in a position where we can’t afford the third year of the contract.”

Musicians’ attorney Leonard Leibowitz characterized Plum’s sentiment as a passive aggressive nonstarter.

…Leibowitz told the Free Press that because management remains unwilling to send key economic issues — including base pay and other details of how the $36 million in the three-year contract should be allocated — to arbitration, the musicians’ offer from last week has been effectively gutted…”They seem to not want to come right out and say they refuse to arbitrate,” Leibowitz said.”Instead, they make proposals which I think they have to know would be turned down. What would we be doing there? Just fighting off things that they want?”

Consequently, it remains unclear whether the notion of comprehensive arbitration is even a consideration at this point in the dispute.

And it seems that cutting edge of techno-journalism is also paying attention to Detroit’s labor unrest. The Daily, a digital news publication with original content created every day exclusively for the iPad, published an article on 3/3/2011 by Benjamin Carlson that examines a number of the primary issues.

Within the context of these issues, Carlson includes a quote from me about the differences in time between how long it takes to build an artistic standard vs. the time it takes for it to fall apart. Regular readers here are likely already familiar with this concept, which I first referred to as “The Fragile Powerhouse” in an article from 2007. Ironically enough, that article was examining some unrest in Detroit at that time.

In other downer oriented news, the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra’s (HSO) bulk auction is officially listed online. Thanks to Chris Blair for pointing out the direct link.

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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0 thoughts on “An All Around Day Of Downer News”

  1. I was talking to someone in the orchestra admin side of things, and they remarked that it would be very difficult to get the board to sign on to arbitration (binding) simply because there must be representatives of the banks to which the DSO has owed millions of dollars on the board, and they wouldn’t dare risk the financial issues to binding arbitration. It was a very astute observation, and I’m surprised no one else has picked up on that aspect.

    • Thanks for that Charles although to be fair, that is second hand information unless you’re able to quote the source. At the same time, even though the bank debt is part of the overall picture, it shouldn’t be a showstopper to the arbitration approach. Of course, in order to really know how much impact it would have, the DSO would have to release a good bit of information that it has, to date, declined to make public.

      To date, the only reason the DSO has offered to explain their reluctance to enter into binding arbitration under the comprehensive parameters proposed by the musicians has been related to their internal decisions regarding fiduciary responsibility. In short, they haven’t offered up any external reasons to support their position. Assuming the bank issue is anything to be concerned about to the level you’re wondering, I would be surprised if they wouldn’t volunteer that information.

      It’s a good question though and it would likely bring up additional queries about the current state of the loans, bank negotiations conducted to date, the building’s official appraised value, and a host of related financial items.

      • Drew – it was totally conjecture on this person’s part, didn’t mean for it to seem otherwise. Turns out, according to a DSO member, there are no representatives from the banks holding the DSO debt on the board (though I have not confirmed this).

  2. I believe that Binding Arbitration is often avoided as situations become more protracted for the same reason that you often don’t find it in contracts to begin with. It is very dificult to bargain that into a contract if one side believes that it has a degree of leverage that it could lose if an “impartial” person or body made a decison in a dispute.

    When you have a situation like this with a DSO Board (in my opinion) which appears to be more disconnected from the negotiating process or almost bystanders to it, as compared to the Orchestra/Union side it is more complicated.

    You may also have some people driving the management side who would prefer to have the orchestra go down, rather than being huniliated if a mediator could find an elegant solution quickly that the public would embrace.Playing the blame game has just become too big here. Sometimes strong and wrong is hard to walk away from if that has been your method.

    • I doubt anyone would disagree that binding arbitration is rarely considered as an early option to resolving disputes for the very reason you mentioned.

      However, one of the points you mentioned has a great deal of impact on this process which is providing a solution that gives everyone involved a way to protect reputations. Although binding arbitration under the traditional sense you defined might not provide a reasonable level, in this case, it would actually serve as an excellent vehicle toward this end for everyone involved.

      Regardless the outcome, it provides a reason for anyone involved to gracefully bow out because the final decision does not conform with his/her personal standards. With regard to your strong and wrong perspective (I like that phrase), that’s exactly one of the points Peter Pastreich gave to one of the Detroit newspapers very early on in the dispute.

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