The Empire Strikes Back


A white snowscape races toward camera … the MAIN TITLE quickly recedes, followed by a roll-up. Episode V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK…

Although certainly not science fiction, the recent opinion piece co-authored by Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) board chair Jon Campbell and MOA negotiation chair Richard K. Davis and published in the 11/28/12 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune still managed to contain what some might consider a rather cinematic tone.

Darth Vader demonstrating no tolerance for failureThere were bad guys, victims, and loads of anguish all set in a cold and snowy land but the part to pay close attention to is the final three paragraphs.

The musicians’ negotiating team appears to be avoiding at all costs our request to come back to the table with a substantive counterproposal. While we have been clear that we seek savings of $5 million annually, the approach we use to reduce these costs can be adjusted through the course of good-faith negotiations. But we need our musicians to participate for this to happen.

Instead, they choose to embark on attention-diverting tactics and inflammatory accusations against the very people who give time, talent and money to support the musicians. We are perplexed by this standoff. What purpose can it possibly serve?

Our hope is that some of the energy that musicians are putting into these activities will be diverted to helping the Minnesota Orchestra find a solution to a serious financial problem and to giving our audiences the season of music they deserve.

Once again, members of the MOA executive committee have focused on the talking point of the musician’s lack of a formal counterproposal. We covered this item in the last half of yesterday’s post by describing that formal proposals and counterproposals aren’t a prerequisite for collective bargaining best practices. Instead, it is common for stakeholders to work through one point at a time, take notes while they go, and codify the resulting changes.

This peek behind the curtain was provided with the sincere hope that it would provide a window of opportunity for all MOA stakeholders to save face and get back to genuine bargaining.

Conversely, Campbell and Davis went in the opposite direction and decided to turn up the rhetoric with their Death Star Tribune article.

Clouded is your fate.


The mighty doors to the dining room slide open and the group enters the elegant room. At the far end of a huge banquet table sits, Darth Vader Impasse.

On the surface, the MOA executive committee’s public angst over the lack of a musician offer may seem like a perfectly straightforward and reasonable point. If both parties were bargaining in good faith and beyond reproach, that would likely be an accurate assessment.

But as we learned in yesterday’s post, a formal counterpropsal isn’t a firm requirement to make genuine negotiation headway. Consequently, the distress over the presence of a counterproposal may appear to some as puzzling and the latest Campbell and Davis article pushes it firmly into the lady doth protest too much, methinks territory.

Here’s the reason why: once the musicians submit a formal proposal, the MOA executive committee acquires a very clear prerequisite for declaring an impasse.

Impasse is when two parties engaged in negotiations reach a point where further discussion would be futile. If impasse is reached, then the employer is in a position to lawfully implement the most recent pre-impasse proposal.

And in light of just how astonishing the MOA’s pre-impasse proposal actually is (details), having that on deck and unaltered throughout the course of bargaining provides an ultimate power in the universe eschelon of leverage.

Once impasse is declared and the pre-impasse proposal imposed, the employees are placed in a position to accept the terms or refuse to work, thereby altering the existing work stoppage from a lockout to a strike.

And once the employees are on strike, it all but guarantees a loss of unemployment benefits and an acute acceleration of the economic distress leverage traditionally favored by employers in an orchestral labor dispute.

What’s important to consider at this point is the overarching strategy of imposing a contract after impasse is not something an employer can implement late in the game. Given that the fact-laden legal determination of an impasse is so clearly defined, successful implementation requires employers to plan ahead and be very mindful of language used in written communication and public statements.

Conclusions: It’s A Trap!

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]There is no escape. You will use the dark side of The Force…or perish.[/quote]It is time for Campbell and Davis to drop the charade of feigning bewilderment over the absence of a formal counterproposal and accusing employee stakeholders of playing games and delaying progress while all along engaging in their own, almost certain, duplicity.

If nothing else, some might find ironic amusement to see the pair shed crocodile tears and levy accusations of disingenuous tactics as means to an end for employing…wait for it… said disingenuous tactics.

In the end, everyone loses when playing this game.

Embrace the dark side of collective bargaining.




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.

Related Posts

13 thoughts on “The Empire Strikes Back”

    • You’re welcome but to be completely fair this is a potential rationale. I have sent a note to the MOA letting them know that Campbell and/or Davis are encouraged and welcome to post a reply and talk about the impasse and related issues.

      I’ve also offered to travel to Minneapolis at my own expense to conduct a live interview with them which would subsequently be published here in audio format.

      • Drew, you are my hero. There are many grateful MO patrons who would love to say hello to you while you’re in town. In fact, I have faith they would pay you to come interview Davis and Campbell. You could probably go crowd-surfing on top of us. If you’re interested in that.

        And you are not the first one to have thoughts of dramatizing this conflict in movie form. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy comes to mind as does certain elements of Fargo (“I’m….cooperatin’ here”).

        Looking forward to Campbell and Davis’s response! …………..

      • I really hope they take you up on that offer. I think it’s important for the big wigs at MNO to talk at length with someone who knows what they’re talking about (Dobson West has already talked to Matt Peiken of MNuet).

        Thanks for all your work here, Drew, we (or at least I) really appreciate it.

  1. Drew, thanks so much for this post! I knew there was some strategy going on, but I could not get beyond just being rigid and not giving an inch until all the musicians are gone. I don’t know, though, if your potential rationale is any better than mine.

    For both sides, I’m reminded that doing or saying the same thing repeatedly and expecting different responses is a definition of insanity. They’ve established their positions. I wish they would listen to you that there is no rigid procedure to negotiations, that the process can be what they make it, i.e. the MOA doesn’t need a counter-proposal and the musicians don’t need the independent financial analysis in order to sit down at a table and begin going through the redline agreement article by article.

    I think it would behoove both sides to treat each other with respect, to listen to what the other has to say and take it seriously, and then to take the action agreed to by both sides — e.g. an independent financial analysis if that is seen as necessary once they begin talking. I am so SICK of management’s arrogant and rigid attitude, their demeaning comments, and their total lack of respect for the musicians, donors and patrons.

    I agree with Emily. You’re my hero, too!

  2. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the Almanac interview that Mr. Ross and Mr. Kelley gave on November 30. I have a link and worked up a transcription here…

    Two points I wanted to ask you about… The following paragraph from Mr. Kelley made absolutely no sense to me…

    “And you remember that first big meeting – I think you were just referring to it – Richard Davis and Michael Henson came in front of you and told you exactly what they were doing. They said, “You know, we have reported that we have balanced the budget and we have announced that publicly. And we’re also telling you that we’re about a million five short and we’ve done that because of donors. And you guys knew every bit about that, and that’s why I think it’s so disingenuous to go to the legislature.”

    Is Mr. Kelley admitting that they announced the balanced budget only for the donors, thereby reinforcing the idea that the donors were manipulated, even though Mr. Kelley heavily implied earlier in the interview this was not the case? Is this admission as big a deal as I think it is? Aside from the MOA being better positioned to get what they wanted from the state legislature in January 2010, and from the musicians’ union in 2012, what would be the strategic advantage of announcing balanced budgets if you’re going to reveal in a couple years that the financial position wasn’t as rosy as you once said it was? Wouldn’t that be – in Mr. Kelley’s parlance – kicking the can down the road? Or have I totally misinterpreted this? I’m also curious what he meant by “that’s why I think it’s so disingenuous to go to the legislature.” I couldn’t understand if he was talking from the musicians’ POV, or if he was missing a word or two, or what was going on. Am I just being dense here? Does it make any sense to you?

    Second point… I know you had mentioned in a previous entry about how we’re not sure what is going on with the Board re: their opinion on Mr. Henson. When asked if the board had full confidence in Mr. Henson, Mr. Kelley said, “Yes, we do. Absolutely. And we just – we had a committee meeting to discuss Mr. Henson. Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board.” Do you think that that’s any indication that a full vote has occurred? Is it likely? Or is it impossible to know based on those words?

    Thanks for your thoughts…

    • Hi Emily, let me do what I can to provide some feedback to your inquires.

      In the excerpt you quoted, I believe Kelly’s phrasing is such that there’s no way to definitively determine what he is saying here without added clarity.

      Regarding the board confidence point, I noticed Kelly’s phrasing here too in that he said the committee met to discuss Henson. Although it would be worth confirming, I believe Kelly was referring to the executive committee. If that’s accurate then no, that is not the same thing as a full board vote and/or discussion on the topic.

Leave a Comment