According to multiple press reports, the Minnesota Orchestra (MO) has notified its musicians that unless an agreement is ratified by midnight, Sunday 9/30/12 then it intends to initiate a lockout. The labor dispute has been characterized by a sharply concessionary contract offer that includes an approximate 34 percent cut in compensation along with reducing orchestra musicians to 84. And in a less common move, the MO has been publishing complete copies of their proposed offer alongside summaries.
On the surface, the MO’s decision to provide copies of their proposed agreement might seem like a great deal of transparency and to a degree it is. But it is also hobbled by a lack of comparative perspective. In the end, tossing around an avalanche of figures in order to understand something as complex as a labor dispute is only useful when you have perspective (and even then, it is still a hazardous pursuit).
For example, the MO’s current offer reduces musicians to 84, but how many were employed in the previous agreement; 85, 212?
Time For An Insider’s Perspective
The how and why behind the way orchestra contract negotiations work isn’t particularly sexy. We’re not talking about the drama, the posturing, or the politics but the actual exchange of offers. When it comes to examining the deal things become very straightforward. In order to save time and keep discussions focused on salient items, it is common for both sides to present proposals by referencing copies of the existing agreement with changes indicated by strikeout and bold formatting; the former is a removal with the later an addition or modification.
It’s about as simple as the wheel but it provides perspective. For example, here’s an excerpt selected at random from the MO proposal (Section 16.2, page 27 to be precise) to help illustrate this point:
For all bus trips of fifteen (15) miles or less or trips which under normal traffic conditions do not exceed twenty (20) minutes duration, Employer may provide any buses which meet applicable state safety regulations. For longer bus trips, over fifteen (15) miles and up to thirty-five (35) miles, Employer shall provide late-model commuter buses capable of freeway speeds and air-conditioned.
Amended with Markup
For all bus trips of fifteen (15)sixty (60) miles or less or trips which under normal traffic conditions do not exceed twenty (20) minutesone (1) hour duration, Employer may provide any buses which meet applicable state safety regulations. For longer bus trips, over fifteen (15)sixty (60) miles and up to thirty-five (35)three hundred (300) miles, Employer shall provide late-modelreadily available commuter buses capable of freeway speeds and air-conditioned.
Amended without Markup
For all bus trips of sixty (60) miles or less or trips which do not exceed one (1) hour duration, Employer may provide any buses which meet applicable state safety regulations. For longer bus trips, over sixty (60) miles and up to three hundred (300) miles, Employer shall provide readily available commuter buses.
When looking at a clean, unedited document that doesn’t indicate the changes via markup formatting, it provides an inaccurate sense of an offer’s overall gravity. What seems innocuous may be exactly that; or it may be something much more profound. When applied to an employment agreement more than 50 pages in length, you can begin to get a better idea behind the complexities involved and why even knowing the big, obvious differences still don’t provide a proper outlook.
So, having access to a copy of the MO’s proposed agreement is undoubtedly a crucial part of overall transparency, but without the accompanying markup copy, it still provides an incomplete picture.
8 thoughts on “Keep Your Eye On The Details In Minnesota”
Thank you so much for this. I’ve been saying this ever since they put the damn thing up.
Hi Emily, do you have a link to one of the posts where you mentioned that? I’m sorry I didn’t see it previously but I’m sure folks would find it useful to have another perspective on this point.
Sorry for the delay in replying! I thought I’d said it in a blog entry, but upon reflection I don’t think I did. (Maybe I thought about writing it but never actually got around to it. That has been happening a lot lately.) However, I did mention it briefly in a comment here… http://songofthelark.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/is-minnesota-orchestra-management-lying-to-us/ The Sep 10 Anon brought the point up, and I agreed wholeheartedly Someone not in the Minnesota Orchestra did offer to send a copy of the 2007-12 contract to me in mid-September so I could compare the two, but I felt very uncomfortable taking him up on that, and so declined. (I’m not qualified to interpret the differences in the two, anyway.) So I have not seen the expired contract. But it’s apparently out there. You may know this already; I don’t know.
I’m preparing an entry discussing the changes in management’s April proposal and “final proposal.” Once that’s posted I’d appreciate your thoughts or a colleague’s thoughts on it, since I am, as I’ve said, unqualified to wade through the legalese… There are not many changes to take note of…maybe about ten, all of which strike me as being relatively minor.
There are a lot of details.
This final offer contains,in addition to a $35K reduction in base salary, over 250 other work rule changes, effectively negating 50 years of collectively bargained conditions.
bassoonist and contrabassoonist