Arbitration Proposed In Louisville

According to a report filed by Elizabeth Kramer in the 2/9/2012 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Louisville Orchestra (LO) has issued an offer to the LO Musicians to enter into binding arbitration as a final measure to resolve the prolonged labor dispute and resultant work stoppage. But Kramer’s report indicates that the offer comes with a few caveats.

In particular, the article reports that “If this offer is not accepted by the musicians, the Board will be forced to move forward with new musicians to ensure the institution and its mission will survive.” The LO has been soliciting applications for musicians for the past several weeks but have declined to release any information about the quantity or quality of applicants.

Additional stipulations include:

  • “…a process for the union and the LOI to choose one of five highly qualified members of the National Academy of Arbitrators.” However, the list is limited to five names and no reasons are offered as to why they were selected other than “they are well experienced in employment matters.” Similarly, the LO indicated they will not consider any other names beyond the five proposed.
  • “…the arbitrator’s decision must reflect a sustainable budget for LOI based on historical earned and contributed income over the previous five years.”
  • “…comply[ing] with previously negotiated terms regarding the Orchestra’s pension plan, and matters of governance.”

The musicians expressed caution and it would be out of character if they accepted any limitations that failed to extend past previous LO offers. To that end, Kramer reports that the LO’s legal counsel indicated that the offer will be withdrawn if the musicians do not accept it as-is.

In the end, if the limitations and parameters don’t exceed management’s previous terms, then the entire affair may come across more as an empty gesture than a sincere effort toward compromise.

Either way, the current version of the proposed arbitration process could last for up to 90 days; it isn’t unthinkable that even if both parties agreed to the terms, the rest of the 2011/12 season will remain dark.

The Courier-Journal also published a copy of the LO’s letter to musicians containing the offer, which you can read here.

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 “Arbitration Proposed In Louisville”

    • It will be interesting to see if the parameters in the arbitration offer are limited to terms only within management’s previous offers or if it contains provisions for compromise between high/low extremes from either stakeholder. Likewise, it will be equally interesting to watch how stakeholders represent their respective positions on that matter.

      At the same time, the arbitrator list is still fascinating. I’m curious to see if either stakeholder or media outlet performs some due diligence on the names to see if any individuals have labor or management leanings in their decisions etc.

      A more traditional process for determining an arbitrator is to have each stakeholder present a list of names from a mutually agreeable source(s) and then engage in an elimination process.

  1. Not directly related to this news above, but I think it’s something that plays into the whole climate down here, but the Kentucky Opera hired community musicians in the area for their production of the Merry Widow next weekend. Since the opera used to use the LO for their productions and given the relatively close connection between the two organizations, the threat you mention above: “Board will be forced to move forward with new musicians to ensure the institution and its mission will survive” may have some force.

    As the Opera link states, there has been a lot of shake-up with many of the local community orchestras. The Baptist Theological Seminary orchestra ended just last December, and (not really mentioned in the article above, but common knowledge down here) the Jewish Community Center Orchestra is now the Louisville Civic Orchestra and the move to Bellarmine University wasn’t exactly universally welcomed by all the JCCO members.

    Basically, the climate for Orchestral music in this area is having tons of changes and reconfigurations and with so much instability, it might not take much to get enough of just the local musicians to make choices they would, in more stable times, have considered unwise.

    • In regard to Jon’s related news about the Kentucky Opera, by all reports it’s not just amateurs who have been “hired” to play for “The Merry Widow,” but students as well, some of them appearing to be as young as 11 or 12-years-old. What a disgusting example for a professional opera company to set, encouraging 12-year-olds to become union busters while still in puberty.

      To say nothing of showing incredible disrespect to the Kentucky Opera’s audience, who expects — and has paid for — a totally professional performance, but will get something far from that, at least in regard to the sounds which will emanate from the pit. (Plus, I am surprised that there are not child labor law issues. I don’t know what the state regulations are in Kentucky — in California, there certainly would be issues that would have to be addressed before a 12-year-old could take a job in the orchestra of the San Francisco Opera or the Los Angeles Opera.)

      I have made no secret that I unconditionally support the actual, legitimate players of The Louisville Orchestra, and that I feel that they have been treated abysmally by their management in Louisville. And in this case, the management of the Kentucky Opera is not even at an arms length from the management of the Louisville Orchestra. They practically share offices. So when you read the details of this latest twist, it is no surprise that once again the L.O. musicians made every effort to play, and once again, they were thwarted. (And to read the details, go here:|newswell|text|Home|s )

      I have no problem with non-professional performers — their efforts should be encouraged, applauded, and embraced. The same, of course, goes for students. There should be a place for all levels of music making and music makers. But when students and amateurs are brought in to replace professional orchestral musicians — or when they volunteer to come in and take away the jobs of proper professional orchestral players — that is a totally different thing. Professional performers — musicians, dancers, singers, actors — need to stand up against stunts like this, or else we will be seeing more and more of this around America, and the result will be mediocrity layered upon mediocrity.

      Opera is hard enough to sell in this economy, even with stellar companies, glorious productions, fabulous orchestras in the pit, and all-star singers on the stage. Who wants to pay to hear opera that sounds like crap? Nobody! Opera with lousy music plays into a potential audience’s worst stereotypes of what they think (or fear) opera is. Putting amateurs and junior high school students into the orchestra pits of professional opera companies will be the death knell for those companies. Very sad.

    • I have one thing to add to your statement, Jon: We* have talked to some of the amateurs who are playing for Merry Widow, or who have backed out. The responses about what they are being paid are vague. Some say “parking reimbursement,” some say nothing, some say “a small honorarium.” One figure mentioned for the “small honorarium” was $1000. One man had a specifically anti-union ideology. (*We means LO musicians, other union musicians, non-musician union members, and other musicians.)

      • I just reconfirmed that the two players who first had called me to ask (one union, one non-union) whether or not it would be ok to play with the KOA had both been offered $1,000 as an honorarium in a single lump sum check without deductions. I also heard a trombonist explain that he was not expecting or assured of any payment and since he endured thirty minutes of question and answer in the freezing cold to discuss the matter before deciding not to play that he was being truthful. I suspect the players are each being dealt with individually, not collectively.

        Some irony there, eh?

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