Louisville Gets A Deal(?)

Well, at the very least we know that something happened in Louisville yesterday and it involved the Louisville Orchestra Inc. (LOI), Louisville Orchestra Musicians Association (LOMA), and Louisville Metro Council President Jim King. To say the least, details are spotty and traditional news outlets are publishing contradictory reports; but here’s what you can reliably piece together so far. 

  • Louisville Metro Council President Jim King served in a leadership capacity and shuttled offers between LOI and LOMA.
  • Both sides have agreed to a one year agreement that covers concert event and related activity over the 2012-2013 season.
  • Both sides will continue to work through the length of the interim agreement toward reaching a long term agreement.
  • There will be a consultant involved in that process but it is unclear exactly what sort of role the individual will play.

If you’ve been following this saga, you know that final point has been a show-stopper point. Here’s why the consultant’s role is currently unclear:

clear as mudA LOMA press release from 4/24/2012 states that the agreement “allows for binding arbitration” but goes on to declare provisions for “consultant overseeing operations and making recommendations on a longer contract with the orchestra musicians, as well as about future orchestra initiatives and management policies.”

To say the least, “binding arbitration” and “making recommendations” are typically not in the same ballpark so there are plenty of mixed messages to go around. Likewise, having a consultant oversee operations could be construed to mean that the current LOI executive administrator, Robert Birman, would no longer retain that authority.

Interestingly enough, the only quote from Birman in all of this is from a 4/25/2012 Louisville Courier-Journal article by Elizabeth Kramer wherein she reported that Briman provided a text message stating “We’ll reserve comment until we see the proposal.”

Adding to the confusion is a host of other media reports.

  • The Louisville Business Journal reports that the mutually agreed upon consultant will conduct “binding arbitration process that could lead to a longer contract.”
  • Another article in the Courier-Journal, by Dan Klepal, reports that the consultant/arbitrator will “review all aspects of orchestra operations” but only serve in an arbitration capacity if both sides are unable to reach an agreement.
  • WFPL News reports in an article by Erin Keane that the consultant will “make binding employment recommendations for the musicians as well as future orchestra initiatives and management policies.”

The lack of clear consensus indicates that no one is really certain what’s going on at this point and if that’s not enough, Kramer’s 4/25/2012 article provides a whopper of a tell-tale sign.

“I was told by Chuck Maisch on Monday night that the orchestra board had already approved this agreement with one change that they wanted made that the musicians adopted tonight,” King said, adding that those changes concerned the parameters of the consultant.

Ever since the LOI proposed the notion of binding arbitration back in February, 2012 both sides have differed sharply on the scope and authority any arbitrator could employ. Many lines in the sand were drawn so in an attempt to obtain some verifiable details, I contacted the LOMA press spokesperson and received this reply from an associate who works for the LOMA public relations firm.

…[the consultant] has the latitude to make binding decisions pertaining to the LO management, CBA, and aspects surrounding the orchestra.

Unfortunately, LOMA failed to reply to my request for a copy of the actual agreement and related terms pertaining to the consultant/possible arbitrator. And given the degree of spin from all directions in this labor dispute, it seems like a good idea to verify details before getting too excited about any potential outcome.

For the time being, it would be wise to hang tight until both parties release the complete written terms from whatever it was they signed yesterday. Once they are made public, we’ll take a closer, confirmed, look at the details.

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 “Louisville Gets A Deal(?)

  1. So, I am not the only one questioning this “deal”, huh? All I see at the moment is a bunch of people claiming there is consensus without proof of said consensus. And most important to me is this – where is that CEO in all this mess? Besides that one sentence, where is he? He is suppose to be the spokesperson for that orchestra. Seeing the musician chair and the board chair come out and talk isn’t enough to me. Something else is at play here. All the i’s are not dotted and t’s not crossed. Am I wrong? Possibly. But perception is on my side and if I am wrong Louisville, fix it!

  2. Yes, it would be very helpful to have a copy of the agreement so folks can replace conjecture with details. At the very least, it would help begin replacing much of the lost credibility and community trust that has eroded away during this conflict.

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