On Thursday, 2/16/2012 the Louisville Orchestra (LO) Musicians formally rejected an offer from management to enter binding arbitration. This comes as no real surprise in that the offer had a number of provisos tailored to ensure that any decision would conform to financial and operational parameters contained in their previous proposals, all of which have been previously rejected by LO musicians.
Moreover, the lack of any input on selecting the pool of arbitrator candidates made the offer more of an empty gesture than a shared risk effort to end the work stoppage. But what’s particularly interesting at this point is what the musicians decided to do next.
In a coordinated effort with other local unions, the musicians, represented by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), launched a PR and public demonstration campaign to announce the their response to arbitration and to protest outside of Kentucky Opera (KO) performances of The Merry Widow.
For those not up to speed on events, the KO is tangentially connected to the LO labor dispute in that the opera traditionally contracts the LO to provide live music for its productions. Excluding the KO’s initial production this season, the KO and LO musicians have been unable to reach terms independent of the original LO contract; as a result, the KO has implemented a series of replacement measures including a multi piano accompaniment and as of last week, a replacement orchestra consisting of a mix of amateur and professional musicians for The Merry Widow performances.
What’s The Definition of Insanity?*
What’s interesting here is the PR message from the musicians and supporters in the wake of rejecting the arbitration offer has been to propose a course of action that has ostensibly been tried already and failed. In particular, they are endorsing a course of action recommended in a report written by Henry Fogel that recommended the Mayor facilitate “…bringing in an industry professional to lead a blue ribbon committee that can work collaboratively to establish…the foundation for a fair settlement.”
In response to the proposal, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer released a statement (subsequently published in the 2/16/2012 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal) alluding to the fact that his office tried that and it didn’t produce a resolution. Instead, he favored a binding course of action that was mutually agreeable to both parties.
“Until both sides can agree to a course of action that is binding on both of them, any attempt to further study the issue seems futile. I am happy to offer any assistance from my office once the parties come to a binding agreement on a process … for moving to resolution. I urge both parties to take a fresh look at the impasse and resolve it for the good of our community.”
Moreover, LO CEO Robert Birman pointed out the same thing to the Courier-Journal’s Elizabeth Kramer in an article published on 2/13/2012. He cited efforts by the Mayor’s office that resulted in bringing in consultant Ralph Craviso, a long-time colleague of Fogel, to study the situation and mediate a settlement.
Orchestra CEO Robert Birman said Monday that he has no comment on the unions’ request, except to say that Fischer’s office participated in the negotiation process last fall, when it brokered the hiring of labor relations expert Ralph Craviso with money from an anonymous donor. Those negotiations failed.
So What’s Next?
The long and short of it is both Fisher and Birman are correct; pursuing another course of action that relies on continued study and additional consultants won’t resolve the conflict. At the same time, empty gesture offers for binding arbitration are only going to agitate an already bitter situation.
Furthermore, musicians and their supporters missed an influential opportunity to push the ordeal toward a better direction vis-a-vis their latest PR and public demonstration efforts and instead decided to endorse a course of action that has already failed to resolve the conflict.
At this point, the best option for resolving the dispute is something close to what Mayor Fischer suggested; specifically, that both parties enter into mutually agreeable binding arbitration where both sides have an equal input on terms and selecting the arbitrator(s).
Without that, both sides (not to mention the greater Louisville public) can expect continued frustration over expecting different results from doing the same things over and over.