The 8/22/2011 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal published an article by Elizabeth Kramer that reports on the fallout following the American Federation of Musicians’ (AFM) decision to place the Louisville Orchestra (LO) on its Unfair List in response to orchestra CEO’s public statement that the orchestra would pursue using non union represented musicians if they fail to come to an agreement with the AFM.
According to Kramer’s report, LO CEO, Robert Birman, may not see the move as anything more than saber rattling at best and at worst, a bluff.
“It’s just a step in a dance, and I wouldn’t encourage people to put too much weight in it,” [Birman] said. “The thing that’s perverse about it is that we aren’t agreeing to a contract we cannot afford.”
Ironic dance metaphors aside, Birman is correct in that, historically, once an agreement is reached orchestras on the AFM’s Unfair List are removed post-haste and being placed on the list is not a bargaining showstopper. But times are far from typical and the one element within what would otherwise be a tedious round of public barbs is the AFM’s claim that the LO owes $3 million in penalties for withdrawing from the AFM’s pension fund; a debt that was not satisfied by the recently completed bankruptcy proceedings.
The complexities involved with that issue (which we examined in yesterday’s article) indicate that shrugging this off is a luxury neither side can afford.
Although Birman has yet to respond to requests for a response to the AFM’s decision, what’s missing from Kramer’s article is any indication or affirmation of the initial comment that started the chain of events; in particular, that the LO would pursue using non union represented musicians if they fail to come to an agreement with the AFM. Kramer highlights this same point in her article (emphasis added).
We’re working various channels to get to an agreement within our state and our city,” he said. “And if that doesn’t result in a successful outcome, we will consider all other options available to us.”
Birman chose not to specify those channels or options.
At this point, anything is possible; including, and not limited to, the orchestra’s board deciding that a prolonged, ugly labor dispute isn’t what they signed on for and the best option may simply be shutting down the organization and liquidating. From there, some of the existing board members alongside a new group of leaders can decide whether or not fielding a professional orchestra with a work agreement that is satisfactory to all parties is worth pursuing.
The only real potential for surprise in all of this is if the LO wasn’t using the non union comment as bluster following the court’s favorable ruling. If that’s the case and the leadership has a clear point where they feel implementing that option is better than continued bargaining with their current musicians and the AFM, then we’re all going to see some terrific fireworks. Of course, the musicians could just as well decide they’ve had enough and fold under the weight of continued pressures.
One way or another, something will happen.