I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

The word deadline gets tossed around a lot during contract negotiations and yes, a certain degree of brinkmanship is expected when things are dark but it really is time for stakeholders to being demonstrating a higher degree of respect for one another by honoring a deadline.

ITA-GUY-065Case in point, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) board of directors has been tossing around a season cancellation deadline of Monday, 4/8/2013, at 5:00pm CT if the musicians failed to accept their latest offer, as deal brokered by Saint Paul mayor Chris Coleman. But apparently, that isn’t what they actually meant since the deadline came and went without any decision on cancelling the season.

At the time this article was written, here is what has been reported about how the brinkmanship ping-pong ball has been bouncing back and forth.

  1. According to media reports, Mayor Coleman brokered a deal between the SPCO and its musicians and it appeared as though what little of the season was left might be salvaged.
  2. A few hours later, the musicians swatted down that notion stating that the deal contained unacceptable conditions.
  3. Coleman responded by telling the musicians, and I’m paraphrasing here, What, are you stupid? None of your outstanding issues matter that much.
  4. Shortly thereafter, the musicians cried foul claiming that the deal Mayor Coleman sent along contained sharp differences from his previous summary. The crux of musician concerns focused on artistic review (the process used to fire a tenured musician), unfair substitute pay, and a media agreement that purportedly violates labor law.
  5. Mayor Coleman replied, more paraphrasing here, You’re nuts, what I gave you is what I said you would get and really, all that should matter here is the terms related to pay and benefits.

As a result, the board’s season cancellation deadline came and went without any formal decision other than they planned to meet for a new deadline on Tuesday, 4/9/2013 to decide, or not, on whether the remainder of the season would be cancelled.

That deadline came and went, again, without any decision and at the time this article was written (keep in mind details are murky here), it appears that the musicians’ may take the original offer to their membership for a vote. However, there is no word on whether the offer will be accompanied by a recommendation for approval from the negotiation committee; a provision Mayor Coleman was stumping for over the weekend.

The SPCO responded to the musicians’ latest modified offer by stating, more paraphrasing, We’ll be delighted to think about it, after you sign the agreement as-is.

At this point, it seems the SPCO has no real commitment to any sort of season cancellation deadline (as if it really mattered at this late date anyway), nor do they seem anxious to move over any items remaining on the musicians’ increasingly malleable line in the sand.

For now, and barring any more eleventh hour twists, it appears that the next move should come from the musicians. If they decide to hold a ratification meeting, it is unlikely the proposed agreement will pass without the committee’s recommendation unless a new movement emerges where a majority of musicians opt for what might be described in Mad Men era vernacular as “folding like a bunch of umbrellas” on traditionally key issues of job security and equal pay for equal work.

Given how quickly details seem to be changing, everything from this article may be out of date by the time it is published. Nonetheless, one thing you can count on is even if both sides reach an agreement, don’t expect to get any meaningful details until weeks later.

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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2 thoughts on “I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means”

  1. Drew, you are one of the few observers to get this right. Here’s the problem right here – notice what is missing?
    Only the musicians and the audience . . .
    The musicians had some very significant concerns – quite obvious in the letter they sent the mayor after he was assured (not by musicians) that it was a done deal. Your paraphrasing pretty much captures the tone of the mayor’s various responses.

    We await the return of our beloved and amazing musicians to the stage and hope that things can go forward from here, but we’ve definitely learned to be wary.

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