Toeing The Line In Atlanta

Just because the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s (ASO) collective bargaining agreement has expired and the deadline set by management to reach an agreement or risk cutting musician benefits has passed doesn’t mean anything has happened. In fact, there’s a good bit of ambiguity going on right now, but here’s what you need to know.

toe the line1) No news is no news.

On Sunday, 8/26/2012 the ASO posted a brief message at their website stating that “While the current contract between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Federation of Musicians expired on August 25, 2012, both parties are continuing to work towards a solution. Negotiations are ongoing.”

Strictly speaking, negotiations continue even during a work stoppage so that statement isn’t an indication of a work stoppage nor is it indicating any sort of official play and talk arrangement.

2) Equally vague, yet identical, musician response.

When asked for details, musician spokesperson and ASO principal trombonist Colin Williams provided the exact same reply as was posted at the ASO website “While the current contract between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Federation of Musicians has expired, both parties are continuing to work towards a solution. Negotiations are ongoing.”

On the glass half full side of things, this could indicate that the statement was agreed upon in advance by both parties and that could be a potentially good sign that bargaining continues in earnest.

3) So much for artificial deadlines.

Although the master agreement may have expired, a far more tactile deadline is in the form of the first scheduled orchestra service. Consequently, it isn’t in either side’s best interests to initiate a work stoppage unless they arrive at that date without an agreement or a play and talk accord.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean either side can’t initiate a work stoppage before then, but barring something like a catastrophic cash flow bottleneck or renewal dates imposed by health benefit providers it doesn’t make much sense from a negotiating standpoint. Simply put, there’s no real leverage to gain.

4) So when is the date for the first scheduled service?

I sent inquiries to the ASO and the musician spokesperson asking when the date and starting time for the first scheduled service that musicians are required to attend, but at the time this article was published both representatives have simply repeated the statement above.

For more information and a useful overview of events to date, take a moment to read the article by Ernie Suggs published in the 8/26/2012 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In the meantime, stay tuned; an update will posted if anything substantial transpires.

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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