Ratified But Unresolved In San Fran?

Over the weekend, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (SFS) and its musicians finally wrapped up the contentious labor dispute that led to a strike and tour cancellation. Details of the agreement have been trickling out in edited press release format but any meaningful analysis won’t be possible until the complete agreement is made public.

ITA-GUY-085Nonetheless, what’s interesting is the continuing degree of animosity between employer and employee stakeholders in the wake of the ratification announcement. Equally interesting is the revelation that Professor Robert Mnookin was brought in to facilitate the post work stoppage bargaining sessions.

Mnookin is a key figure here in that he was the central figure involved in the SFS’s last major strike in 1996. That Interest Based Bargaining process led to an extended period of labor peace and institutional growth.

In a press statement from 4/13/2013, the SF musicians credit Mnookin for helping resolve the dispute. The statement also levies additional charges of administrative incompetence and in no uncertain terms, lays the blame for their decision to strike on managerial ineptitude.

The Musicians agreed to look at ways to help achieve savings in Health Care and for more than three months invested large amounts of time and money into studying a proposed Health Plan that in the end was too good to be true.  The Management overestimated the savings by $700,000 and didn’t realize their mistake until March 12, forcing the Musicians to strike on March 13.

It is unclear exactly who the musicians are referencing with the capitalized proper Noun “Management” but this follows a pattern of ambiguity when expressing outrage over strategic decision making. In short, it has been continuously unclear whether the musicians have been asserting that the entire SFS administrative branch is incompetent (from entry level employees up through the CEO), the board, certain members in one or both groups, etc.

The only clarity on these matters came in the form of a quote from David Gaudry, Chair of the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee.

“Some of the members of the Management bargaining team were inexperienced and they wasted hundreds of hours of our time.”

At the time this article was published, the SFS has not responded to the musicians’ accusations but it appears that although a settlement was reached, a great deal of animosity, and perhaps unsettled business, remains. And given that the recently ratified agreement expires in approximately 20 months, those very same stakeholders may be meeting again in short order to pick up bargaining where they recently left off.

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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