Minnesota End Game

My Inside the Arts blogging colleague, conductor Bill Eddins, recently reminded me why it’s wonderful to be associated with a collection of sharp, insightful authors. Eddins published an article at Sticks and Drones on 12/3/12 that appears to be his final word on the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) labor dispute. His sayonara post is brutally honest, yet brilliantly written, advice and insight for each of the intuition’s stakeholders.

One aspect Eddins touches on worth exploring in greater detail is attempting to define the MOA’s end game. In short, why has the vitriolic tone become so bad in such a short period of time?

Publicly, the labor dispute is about money, revenue vs. expenses; but those battles aren’t exactly new in the field and historically, money fights tend to get settled before reaching levels such as those at the MOA. Instead, this appears to be far more about the decades old struggle over control and if the MOA’s end game is rooted in this old school power play, then don’t expect things to get better before they get worse.

In order to provide more detail, I want to reach back to a TEDx presentation I had the privilege of delivering on 5/7/2011 on labor relations and the arts. Specifically, the section on labor disputes and control does a good job at summing up the current quagmire in Minneapolis; for example, take the following excerpt and ask yourself if it is applicable to the MOA labor dispute.

[The field needs to] stop pretending that we’re not fighting over what we’ve been fighting over for decades: control. Employers want to be able to tell the artists what to do, when to do it, and how to get it done without any restrictions or feeling like they’re being held hostage to every last artist whim.

Artists want wage and benefits guarantees along with parameters placed on working conditions.

Unfortunately, it’s become fashionable to take our fights over control and package them in boxes marked community engagement, structural deficits, artistic parity, or whatever jargon du jour is all the rage. In the end, regardless of how the fight settles, the core struggle over control continues to simmer. Even during periods of intense economic stress, we manage to find ways to interject unrelated control issues into a process as cut and dry as emergency wage concessions.

Talk about making a bad situation worse, it’s almost as though some in the field are compelled to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

In order to build a healthy labor relationship, both sides need to realize the struggle over control is expected and each individual organization will only find a sustainable balance between extremes once they abandon the goal of obtaining dominant control in the relationship.

You can read the complete presentation along with the accompanying slides in the Adaptistration post from 5/11/2011.

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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1 thought on “Minnesota End Game”

  1. Hi Amy, I just did a segment for Minnesota Public Radio this morning where the host asked very similar questions and at this point in a dispute where the fight has become internalized (meaning folks are taking it personally) it’s crucial to look for solutions that provide a way for all stakeholders to save face. Barring that, the likelihood of a solution that in order to win someone else has to lose increases exponentially.

    Update: here’s the link to the MPR segment.

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