Legislative Action In Minnesota?

There is an interesting pair of articles about the recent Minnesota House Legacy Committee hearings into the ongoing lockouts at the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO). Of particular note is the suggestion from State Representative Phyllis Kahn that funds currently allocated to both organizations instead be redirected to their respective musician associations for the purpose of presenting concert events.

The 2/12/2013 edition of the Star-Tribune and the 2/12/2013 edition of MPRNews.com provide details about the hearings and although there are a number of hurdles to overcome before an idea like this could come to fruition (not the least of which is whether or not either musician association is a registered 501(c)3), the very notion has some real game-changer potential.

It’s All About Money And Pressure

150x150_ITA_Guy179When it comes to labor disputes, one of the primary pressure points used by both sides is money. Employers reply on anxiety and fear among musician employees resulting from pressure created by cutting off compensation and benefits while musicians attempt to leverage the loss of earned income (and to a lesser degree unearned income). In many instances, it is the financial considerations that play the greatest role in forcing either side to capitulate.

Historically, one of the benefits enjoyed by the orchestra employer is a comparatively strong capacity for maintaining a reliable revenue stream whereas employees, as a whole, have a much more difficult time replacing lost income. For employers, even though there is a genuine loss from the drop in earned income, the stream of unearned revenue coming in at defined dates from sources such as foundations, investment income, grants, and government funding is a genuine lifeline.

Granted, government sources tend to occupy a smaller percentage in that mix but it is rarely something a group would consider inconsequential, especially when earned income is entirely, or at least nearly, nonexistent.

Historically, those sources are mostly untouchable so the notion that one of those funders could be convinced to redirect or cut off resources is fascinating.

In case you’re curious about how important fiscal pressure points really are in work stoppages, take a listen to the response from MOA President and CEO Michael Henson to a question from Representative Dean Urdahl about how much the work stoppage costs the MOA (h/t to Song of the Lark for pointing this segment out on FB).

[audio:Henson-non-answer2.mp3]

If there’s a better example of a non-answer retort, I have yet to find it (note the laughing toward the end). In case you missed it, Henson never actually answered the question and rest assured it isn’t due to ignorance. Instead, providing a figure would give the locked out employees an advantage by knowing roughly how long the organization can hold out before the revenue falloff becomes serious enough that the MOA would have to consider liquidating.

In the end, it all comes back to what we discussed in the beginning of the post regarding money and pressure.

[ilink url=”http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/audio/archivescomm.asp?comm=88021&ls_year=88″ style=”download”]Download the entire Minnesota House Legacy Committee hearing audio recording at the house.leg.state.mn.us website. [/ilink]

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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