Keep Your Eye On The Details In Minnesota

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:

Original

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) minutes one (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-model readily 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.

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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8 thoughts on “Keep Your Eye On The Details In Minnesota

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    Norbert Nielubowski
    bassoonist and contrabassoonist
    Minnesota Orchestra

  3. 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.

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