Still Advising Wait And See For St. Paul

Given the news reports over the past few days, it is certainly understandable that one might think the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s (SPCO) extended work stoppage came to an end. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and given some of the outstanding variables involved, there is still room for the potential deal to dissolve.

Although most of the news reports are spinning sunshine, two excellent articles that acknowledge the very real issues yet to be resolved and the related process are worth reading. Both were authored by Jake Anderson and published in the 4/9/2013 and 4/10/2013 editions of Twin Cities Business.

ITA-GUY-027Anderson’s article points out that the outstanding items include the mutually exclusive media agreement that must be reached between the SPCO and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) as a prerequisite for the SCPO and musician deal can even go before a vote, along with artistic review language.

In addition to those items, Anderson touches on a point of process that is overlooked in media reports more often than not; specifically, the SPCO proposed that any outstanding concerns be addressed in what is incorrectly being called a play and talk environment.

Currently, the SPCO is insisting that the musicians ratify a two year agreement that contains language related to outstanding items that the musicians have not only disagreed with, but have rejected in previous ratification votes. But under the terms of this tentative agreement, the employer is insisting that although they will continue to bargain on those outstanding items, if both sides fail to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement, then the new language in the employer’s recent offer remains in effect.

The SPCO has been calling this play and talk but that’s a clear misnomer. In order for a genuine play and talk scenario to unfold, it needs to contain the potential for a work stoppage to resume and/or ensue. But removing equal risk and giving either side an unrestricted advantage in decided the outcome means it is no longer a negotiation.

To make matters more complex, the specific language in question regarding what is arguably the more contentious issue of artistic review is unknown. Since this is the process used to fire a musician employee for issues outside of just cause, it is easy to see why it has been such a sticking point. Modifying a few words in the language that dictates the process and assigns decision making authority can have substantial impact on job security and workplace satisfaction.

To better understand how and why this is a cornerstone issue, take a moment to review an article from 11/15/2010 dedicated to explaining this topic and providing real world examples of artistic review language.

Simply put, if the proposed language removes what musicians have classified for decades as a fundamental protection of job security then leaving the resolution up to a process that gives one side all of the control is a tremendous risk and stands a high degree of likelihood to fail. But since neither side is offering up details about contested language, the situation may not be as much of a showstopper as that worst case scenario.

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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5 thoughts on “Still Advising Wait And See For St. Paul

  1. What was to be a Musicians contract for three years is now for only two, coincidentally forcing re-negotiation just prior to the opening of the new Ordway concert hall, the new SPCO venue. In its ongoing gamesmanship, the SPCO Board has forced not a treaty, but a cease fire agreement. The Musicians and their audience have thankfully found a patch of peace, but must prepare for planned resumption of hostilities. Fortunately, they now have one year of front line experience, enhanced strategic awareness, and newly developed reinforcements. In the meantime, their allies must be strengthened. The SPCO war plan has been revealed, and therefore weakened. Advantage: Musicians.

  2. How long is it going to take for the hall to be built? Last I heard the hall was supposed to start construction this summer, with completion tentatively scheduled for 2015, and the SPCO contract extends until June 2016. Were any of those dates changed? This story has been going so fast I haven’t been able to keep up.

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