Louisville Board Rejects Musician Offer

Although it comes as no real surprise, the Louisville Orchestra (LO) board of directors rejected the musicians’ latest offer on Tuesday, April 3, 2012. In response, the musicians’ media contact released a statement announcing they will conduct a press conference today at noon (CT) to discuss their now rejected proposal. There’s nothing earth shattering there but there is something of interest by way of the final two sentences from the letter issued to the musicians by LO attorney, James Smith.

The LOI Board has nothing further to discuss with the Union and the LOMB. These negotiations remain hopelessly deadlocked and at impasse.

In addition to Smith’s letter, the LO board issued their own press statement on 4/4/2012 to expand on the reasons for rejecting the musician’s proposal. According to the statement, the board was only willing to accept binding arbitration per the terms of their previous offer, which musicians have already rejected.

Maisch also said that the musicians did not, in fact, offer or agree to binding arbitration, a process that typically provides for a neutral arbitrator certified by the National Academy of Arbitrators.  “We suggested allowing a certified arbitrator, to make decisions regarding all remaining issues in a multi-year contract. That is a common method to close complex collective bargaining agreements,” he said.  “Instead, the musicians proposed having an external consultant unilaterally make all decisions for the orchestra.”

The problem here worth pointing out again, and one of the reasons that led to the musicians rejecting the offer initially, is the board insisted on choosing the pool candidates from which both sides would select a “mutually agreed upon arbitrator.” That’s akin to saying that you can have a jury of your peers and both lawyers can go through the juror elimination process but the initial pool of jurors will be selected solely by the prosecution from among a group of eligible jurors. Oh, and the prosecutor doesn’t have to say why those jurors were selected other than the fact that their names were on the list of eligible jurors.

Although that aspect had been made clear in their offers prior to the musicians’ rejection, it has been omitted from the board’s recent statements on the matter.

Moreover, it is also worth pointing out that quotes from LO board chair, Chuck Maisch, insinuate that the board may feel as though there may be hanky-panky going on vis-a-vis the role of representation during bargaining.

“The motivation to send our letter came from written statements made by a number of musicians that they were already in agreement regarding the most critical aspects of a contract that would ensure fiscal sustainability, including a maximum of 55 salaried musicians.”

Unfortunately, there was no additional information about where or when these written statements from musicians appeared, how many musicians constitute “a number,” nor the context of the respective statements.

It isn’t unusual during bitter labor disputes for both sides to feel that the other has members who are less than stalwart for the cause so to speak, but it hasn’t been addressed openly like this until now. Maisch’s statement may be in retaliation for remarks made by musician representative Kim Tichenor to the LO board during their 3/26/2012 meeting (Tichenor is still an ex-officio member of the board).

[The musicians] know that some of you have reached out with questions that need to be answered honestly. Some of you have been prevented from getting answers to your questions or talking to us, while others have been given answers that are faulty, misleading or simply untenable. As some of you and your business colleagues have begun to realize, our differences are not as great as the LOI leadership has led you to believe – especially now as these realizations, facts and truths are trickling out in many conversations and occasionally in the press.

Be prepared for both sides to continue claiming the other is misrepresenting statements etc. and in the meantime, don’t expect much to actually get accomplished.

For the moment, what isn’t mentioned, referenced, or otherwise reaffirmed in any of the recent LO communication is what the board plans to do in wake of rejecting the musician’s latest offer. For months now, they’ve been going on about hiring replacement musicians but that doesn’t seem to be working out the way some of the LO leadership may have imagined. And this is one of the first communications in recent months that doesn’t reference replacement musicians; moreover, the likelihood isn’t very high that they would have any better luck than the Kentucky Opera had at filling all the open seats without heavy personnel subsidies in the form of high school and college students along with a liberal infusion of non professional musicians.

At this point in the game, there is increasingly less to examine beyond more of the same accusatory language unless one of the following events transpires:

  1. The board decides to convert from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7.
  2. The board decides to put the shortsighted replacement orchestra scheme into motion.
  3. The musicians decide to cave and accept the board’s most recent offer.
  4. The board caves and proposes an offer in line with previous musician demands.

Based on the evidence to date, the most likely of those options unfortunately seems to be “B.” As a result, it might bring one of the following questions to mind.

If you were a member of the LO board, would you want to continue as a steward of public trust in this environment? If you were one of the musicians, would you pack it in and head out for greener pastures?

[ilink url=”https://adaptistration.com/wp-content/uploads/2012.04.04-LO-Board-Media-Release-Musicians’-Union-Proposal-Rejected-Players’-Offer-Not-Financially-Sustainable.docx” style=”download”]Download the LO press statement from 4/4/2012 (doc)[/ilink]

[ilink url=”https://adaptistration.com/wp-content/uploads/Media-Advisory-Orchestra-Board-Rejects-Binding-Arbitration-Proposal-from-LOMA-2012.04.03.pdf” style=”download”]Download the Musicians’ Press Statement and letter from LO attorney, James Smith from 4/3/2012 (pdf)[/ilink]

Postscript: If nothing else, the musicians’ press statement did contain what amounts to a pretty funny typo. Granted, I’m the last grammatical glass homeowner to be throwing typo stones, but this particular slip was amusing in a Freudian slip sort of way (emphasis added): “Today, the Louisville Orchestra Board outright rejected the Musician Association’s proposal which called for blinding recommendations to be made for the entire organization.”

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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17 thoughts on “Louisville Board Rejects Musician Offer”

  1. Sadly I think your conclusions as to the likelihood of possible outcomes align with my own. My guess would be that such an orchestra might make a brave front of having a “season” but would be both a critical and financial disaster leading to “A” – after wasting an entire year. Unfortunately the LOI board (and Louisville in general) is very insulated from ideas and opinion originating outside our fair city and so unlikely to give any weight to opinions from professionals in the field either in or out of management as to the better choices available to them.

  2. I think this is all about Mr. Birman keeping himself on the payroll as long as possible. He’s sold this replacement musician scheme to the Board already, knowing it will fail eventually. Failure thereby equals success, at least for Mr. Birman.

    • Certainly Birman wants to keep himself on the payroll, but he is the one who sold the board on relying on the multitudes of great, young players he claims will be flocking in, regardless of union status, to be the the new, improved, management-friendly-LO. Birman has been incredibly frantic in trying to fulfill his fantasy, resorting to Craigslist and worse. He and James U Smith III, LOI lawyer, think they will be toasted as architects of the new model of symphony orchestras in the US. No matter how well Birman’s “vision” pans out, the future for symphonic music in Louisville looks grim – let’s pray it doesn’t start other Birmans in other communities onto the same path.

  3. Birman seems to be in the same position as the Jacksonville CEO during their stoppage several years ago. Either he is leading or condones the current actions by the LO BOD and their Council, or has tried to stop the BOD from going down this road but does not have their respect and they are ignoring his advice.

    Personally, it seems as he is leading this course of action and sees it as a means for becoming the LAO ‘golden boy’ and advancing his career.

    • It will certainly be interesting to see how all of what seems to be unfolding, vis-a-vis hiring and presenting concerts with a replacement orchestra,will impact Mr. Birman’s career. It is certainly new territory for the field and although they tend to not be nearly as publicly vocal as musicians, managers certainly have strong opinions regarding what’s going on.

  4. I remembered a plea made during the bankruptcy proceeding, where Mr.Birman claimed that he and his staff needed to continue collecting their contracted compensation, regardless of whether there were any musicians employed by the LO, because they were necessary to continue operations. One has to wonder what operations an Orchestra can engage in when there are no musicians on the payroll, but. Chalk it up to gut instinct if you must.

      • Tamara is referring to Mr. Birman touting than the Louisville Orchestra has offerings beyond concerts senza musicians (thereby continuing operations) by sponsoring Bingo nights to support the LO as well as “Classical U” with Bob Bernhardt leading adult learner programs without an orchestra..

      • Many thanks, I know there are plenty of folks who have not been following things as closely as others over the past several months and are therefore unfamiliar with all of the details. So having references like that are enormously handy.

    • Fascinating, I wonder if any of those transcripts are available anywhere? In a very general sense, yes there are duties and responsibilities that need to be carried out when musical services aren’t being provided. However, those are very limited during periods when there are no fixed dates for services to resume. IT would be interesting to know if those distinctions were evaluated during any of the bankruptcy hearings.

  5. This call for replacement musicians is a completely pointless charade. Somebody please shoot this paper tiger and put it out of its misery. However that being said, it does make great fodder for satire and parody.

    I went through a similar ordeal in Mexico in the 90’s, and yes, I packed my bags and went home.

    I came back to the states humiliated and deflated, put the horn in the closet, got a graveyard-shift job sorting packages and working at McDonalds during the day. As if having half of your salary withheld for no good reason was not enough, working fast food after that ordeal was pretty demeaning for a 30-something pro musician.

    But I survived and eventually got back on my feet. In hindsight I have no regrets for bailing out but I do miss the camaraderie and the experience of living and working in a big metropolitan city like Mexico City. One of my colleagues from those days is in the LO and my heart breaks for him – and all the musicians that are stuck in this pickle barrel.

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