Events Heat Up In Louisville

Following the 5/31/2011 bankruptcy hearing for the Louisville Orchestra (LO), which coincided with the expiration date of the organization’s collective bargaining agreement with its musicians, the Louisville Orchestra Musicians Association (LOMA) published a press statement claiming that the LO has “terminated all the orchestra’s musicians.”…

That section of the official press statement reads as follows:

As of midnight Tuesday, Louisville Orchestra manager Rob Birman told musicians the institution would “withdraw” all present and past offers of employment to the musicians, terminating all the orchestra’s musicians. Mr. Birman continues to receive his $115,000 annual salary, while the musicians are without pay or employer-subsidized health insurance and protection for the valuable instruments with which they perform in the orchestra. The bankruptcy plan the orchestra filed Tuesday asserted the institution commit itself to a budget equivalent to that put forward during the negotiations.

I contacted LO CEO Rob Birman for a response to the accusation and whether or not it is accurate, and he provided the following statement via email.

Thank you for asking. The short answer is “no.” There is nothing that has transpired that would give any person the notion that we have terminated anything. I believe the musician’s media statement is inaccurate, intentionally or otherwise.

Nonetheless, the musicians’ statement is very clear about what they perceive as a threat of being replaced with outside musicians.

Birman said at Saturday’s negotiations that the ensemble would attempt to staff its concerts with individual musicians working on a per-service basis.

In order to prevent any misunderstanding, that section was followed up with a account from American Federation of Musicians president, Ray Hair, that any such move likely be met with a swift response.

Yet Ray Hair, the American Federation of Musicians’ president, confirmed last week that such as action would likely place the Louisville Orchestra Inc. on the union’s unfair list.

In response to this position, I asked Birman for a reaction to the musician accounts from their last negotiation session and he offered the following:

What we have stated, in writing, in connection with our last, final and best proposal is as follows:

“If there is no agreement between the Orchestra and the Union and the LOMC, then, in that event, musicians will be hired for Louisville Orchestra programs and services on a per-service basis under pro-rated amounts, based on the weekly rates set forth in [our Last, Final and Best proposal].”

Ultimately, the big question here is whether or not the LO is considering and/or intends to hire non-union musicians for any summer or 2011/12 season concert events. In order to set aside the discrepancies between what the musicians assert was said during the last negotiation session and what Birman asserts the LO presented via written offer, I asked Birman if the LO intends on hiring non-union musicians outside the auspices of a collective bargaining agreement. Specifically, in the event the LO and its musicians are unable to come to an agreement on a new CBA, will the LO hire or consider hiring non-union musicians for any summer performances. Here’s Birman’s response.

The musicians will tell you themselves that I stated that we do not intend to work with non union musicians.

At the time this article was published, I have not yet had the time to ask the LOMA spokesperson for a response to this statement. If one is provided, the article will be updated with that information.

It seems that both sides in the dispute continue to be far enough apart that a resolution in the near future seems unlikely. The musicians assert they have offered additional concessions but management continues to insist on substantially reduced terms. When combined with the figurative tight rope walk that is semantics, the situation has the potential for becoming volatile.

Birman’s email response references their current terms which are available in a copy of their entire proposal at the orchestra’s website. However, it is worth noting that the document does not contain the typical reference indications of language which is new and/or edited compared to the previous agreement.

Both sides continue to assert that their offers provide a reasonable settlement for the organization to move forward. In the meantime, according to the 5/31/2011 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Elizabeth Kramer reports that the judge overseeing the bankruptcy case has scheduled the next hearings for 6/28/2011 and 7/26/2011.

An additional article from Elizabeth Kramer on 6/1/2011 provides more details as does a broadcast segment from WFPL News on 6/1/2011 by Gabe Bullard. What do you think is going on in Louisville?

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 “Events Heat Up In Louisville”

  1. One point, and this may give folks some further insight into how touchy the situation may (or may not) be as it’s no longer reflected on the front page of the LOMA, but the Louisville Orchestra had threatened the musicians for their usage of the “Louisville Orchestra” name. You can still see what was on the front page through a google cache page, but will quote here for your reader’s convenience:

    A lawyer engaged by Louisville Orchestra management to communicate with its musicians and terminate their contract has threatened federal lawsuits if we continue to use this website (although our contract does have a binding grievance and arbitration procedure to settle such issues). Though no objection to the site has ever been expressed by the LO throughout the years of its existence, and we have done nothing wrong, at the same time we do not wish to offend or engage in unnecessary conflict. We apologize for not being able to provide you here with the information about the musicians and upcoming events and activities that you deserve.

    Also, in the cached view a copy of the letter sent to the musicians is still available.

    This was the main motivation for the musicians to start the “Keep Louisville Symphonic” website and organization.

    Perhaps the musicians have gotten the “written permission” (see legal letter in cached view) or they are risking legal action in a last ditched effort to get their message out in as many venues as possible.

    • And for those of you who don’t want to go hunting through the document, here’s a copy of that clause:

      Restrictive Covenant. During the term of this Master Agreement (as described in paragraph 1.2), no Musician shall, on such Musician’s own behalf or for any other person or entity, except for and on behalf of the Society or the Association of the Louisville Orchestra,(a) participate in the production or presentation, whether as a musician, sponsor or otherwise, of orchestral performances by Keep Louisville Symphonic (“KLS”) or any successor of KLS or entity related to KLS or similarly competitive or alternative orchestra, whether such orchestral performances are free or paid admission events; or (b) solicit or accept contributions, charitable or otherwise, related to, directly or indirectly, the Society’s purposes and missions of presenting orchestral music; or (c) otherwise perform any services for KLS or any successor of KLS or entity related to KLS or similarly competitive or alternative orchestra, any clients or former clients of the Society, of the type performed by the Society, without express, prior written authorization to do so by the Chief Executive Officer of the Louisville Orchestra. For the purposes of this paragraph, the term “orchestral performances” does not include chamber music services. Any Musician determined by the Society to have breached this provision shall be subject to immediate termination of employment at the Society’s sole discretion

      • Since this is am unusually specific clause, it would be something I would have to research and I can say that I wouldn’t have the time to do a thorough investigation for awhile. As such, I hope we’ll hear from some readers and if they do chime in, please reference the respective collective bargaining agreement by name.

      • I guess I’m also wondering if any other orchesta has threatened their musicians in the way the LO did regarding usage of the orchestra name attached to the Musician’s association. I guess the clause in question shouldnt be too surprising given the nature of the threat of legal action for the name usage. Hope someone can shed some insight on either, or both, of these!

  2. OK, let me get this straight: if no agreement is reached, management intends to hire musicians on a per-service basis according to conditions of a proposal that has not yet been ratified by the musicians? Are they even legally allowed to do that, or does that constitute a bad faith bargaining position?

    • Those are good questions Brian. If in fact the LO attempts to hire musicians under the terms of their last, best, and final offer without it being ratified by the musicians, meaning enforcing a contract, then that would be similar to what happened to the event in Detroit that sparked the strike. Assuming complaints/charges are filed,the National Labor Relations Board and/or the courts would decide whether or not any measures such as this are legal.

  3. From Courier-Journal (Kramer) article on June 1 entitled “Louisville Orchestra Musicians Out of Work”(page 2).

    He said the musicians’ news release had accurate information, “but we’re not put off by the press release. … And we have posted the complete three-year contract offer that we’ve offered our musicians on our website (, so the public is free to judge for themselves the nature of what we’ve provided.”

    It is unclear whether that response or the one to you was inaccurate, intentionally or otherwise.

  4. The Detroit Symphony strike is now over. However, the orchestra will move forward without the concertmaster, principal flute and percussion section.

    A member of the American Federation of Musicians would not perform in Louisville if it meant replacing a current orchestra member.

  5. From Rob Birman’s reply to Drew McManus: “There is nothing that has transpired that would give any person the notion that we have terminated anything.”

    What gave me, a (former?) violinist in the (former?) Louisville Orchestra the idea that they have “terminated anything” is that I no longer have health or instrument insurance, and I no longer get a paycheck from the LO.

    If someone’s words seem confusing, examine that person’s actions.

  6. I think it would be appropriate to name the board members and negotiators who formulate and set out this kind of thing, both in Louisville and in Syracuse, where I live. Our former newspaper publisher has been closely involved with the behind the scenes decision-making of our board, so there will be no names named, ever. I think the people who try to impose these preposterous work conditions upon valued members of their communities need to stand up in public and say why. If citizens of these communities disagree, they should be able to vote with their pocketbooks and social relationships.

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