On 11/27/2012, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra issued a notice that they had unanimously voted No Confidence in Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) President and CEO, Michael Henson. Although the measure requires no contractually obligated action on part of the MOA board, it does escalate the tone of an already bitter dispute.
Although the musicians have a long list of reasons to justify their vote of No Confidence, they did not request or suggest any actionable recourse. However, musicians negotiating committee chair, Tim Zavadil, did hint at the potential for getting the stalled negotiations back on track by identifying Henson as the source of trouble.
“Henson is the major obstacle between the Musicians and the Board of Directors working out a new contract,” said Zavadil.
MOA response was swift; the Star Tribune published an article on 11/27/2012 reporting that the board expressed confidence in Henson while simultaneously blasting the musicians recent action.
“Michael Henson is a perfect leader at this challenging time and has the full confidence of our board. This is simply the latest publicity tactic by musicians to avoid addressing the real issue that is facing our organization: a longstanding structural deficit that we need to alleviate. The only obstacle between musicians and board working out a new contract is the musicians’ perplexing refusal to put forward a single contract proposal after nearly eight months of talks. We hope the musicians will soon dispense with these tactics and invest their energies in producing a substantial counterproposal.”
In the same vein of pointing out that the musician vote carries no actionable consequences, it is worth noting that unless the MOA board conducted a similar vote and/or discussion about Henson, Campbell’s assertion that the CEO has the board’s confidence is not verifiable. Barring any such vote or documented discussion, Campbell may have been better suited to rephrase his statement by saying Henson has his full confidence.
The inaccuracy was inadvertently reinforced by the Star Tribune, which included the Headline tag: Board counters with assurance that Michael Henson has its “full confidence.” To be more precise, the board chair countered with assurance that he believed the board had confidence in Henson.
Although this point may seem heavy on semantics, it is perhaps useful to remember that as tensions rise, words carry greater meaning; even if they are, at times, delivered through the filter of intense emotion.
A Broader Perspective On The Bargaining Process
It’s worth pointing out that Campbell’s recent quote used the opportunity to drive home a talking point the MOA has been using since the dispute went public: the absence of a musician counterproposal.
For those not familiar with the collective bargaining process as it exists in the field of professional orchestras, it is worth pointing out that it is not unusual, although not the dominant method, for an entire negotiation to unfold without the employees ever submitting a formal, written proposal or counterproposal.
Instead, both parties begin hashing out specific details one article at a time using the existing agreement or the employer’s initial proposal as a point of reference. During meetings, both sides take notes and any mutually agreed upon points are usually written down and cross checked before the end of the session.
As the end of the bargaining cycle approaches, it is normal for any sticking points to be worked out sans stakeholders in a one-to-one setting between the respective negotiators (which are usually, but not always, the designated legal counsel).
Throughout the course of the dispute, neither the MOA nor the musicians have made any indication that these sorts of discussions have transpired over the course of bargaining. Consequently, Campbell’s assertions that the musicians’ recent action is a deflection tactic may not seem overly compelling without any evidence to support or refute whether meaningful bargaining on a per item basis has transpired since the onset of negotiations.
In response to Campbell’s allegations, the musicians have claimed that the MOA continuously refuses to provide necessary documentation to provide substantive written offers; perhaps unsurprising, the MOA dismisses that counter assertion as inaccurate.
- Misleading the Minnesota Legislature about the orchestra’s finances during his testimony in favor of the orchestra’s bonding request.
- The revelations in the Star Tribune story of Monday, November 26th that Henson’s strategy to show large deficits at the time of labor negotiations, but illustrating how he led the organization in showing “balanced” budgets when requesting state bonding funds.
- Changing the Minnesota Orchestra’s Mission Statement without including Musicians in the process and removing the word “orchestra” from the new mission statement.
- The lack of growth of the endowment fund since Henson’s tenure began.
- Failing to act in the transparent manner that is expected of Minnesota cultural and civic institutions. For example, the Minnesota Orchestra does not receive a top score at CharityNavigator.org because management does not make audited financials or Form 990 available on the orchestra’s website.
- Henson’s inability to take advantage of the artistic recognition of Music Director Osmo Vanska and the musicians of the Orchestra to grow the local audience.
- Jeopardizing future recording and international tours by locking out the Musicians when the artistic reputation of the Orchestra is at his highest point.