Is $71,000 Enough To Matter In Minnesota?

For those unaware, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) just wrapped up their 99th convention in Las Vegas, NV and in what has become a reliable standard, Milwaukee Symphony Principal Violist and President of AFM Local 8, Robert Levine, has been in attendance and blogging away with his observations. Most of it is a routine grinding of the gears but things apparently picked up on 7/24/13 in what Levine describes as “a remarkable happening.”

ITA-GUY-120Toward the beginning of the convention, one of the AFM conferences announced they were donating $500 to Minneapolis-St. Paul Local 30-73 in “support for the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.” According to Levine, Local 30-73 has been hit especially hard thanks to ongoing legal fees associated with a pair of season long lockouts at the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO).

Although no figure, precise or ballpark, was provided, the costs were described by Levine as “crippling.”

As it turned out, the initial donation sparked additional giving from other Locals, individual convention delegates, and even the union camera operator. By the time it was all said and done, the amount raised is reportedly $71,000.

It is difficult to imagine that the donation won’t remove a good bit of financial pressure for the Minnesota Orchestra musicians and Local 30-73 but the overarching question is if the money will be enough to make a difference in how the labor dispute resolves.

Historically, financial reserves during a work stoppage has a good bit of impact on how things play out, much the same way elections are influenced by which candidate raises the most money. When trouble is anticipated a year or more before the onset of negotiations, musicians begin putting away additional money in what is colloquially known as a war chest in order to pay for higher than normal legal fees, beef up strike fund payments, etc.

On the employer end of the equation, they use financial resources to exacerbate the impact of financial pressures and bringing in public relations consultants in hopes of cracking resistance as soon as possible in order to obtain a settlement more to their liking. Although employers typically have an initial spending advantage, the well isn’t bottomless and when the money runs thin, a board’s resolve fades away in very short order.

But nothing stays the same forever.

The New Model Army

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who fail to adapt tend to fade away and one of the devices refined since the onset of the economic downturn is to wage labor war when they are flush with cash. The goal here is to identify fixed, long term expenses as the root of eventual fiscal insolvency; in turn, the employer then proposes immediate and sharp austerity measures as a solution.

By doubling down on the traditional leverage of financial pressure, an employer can help maintain resolve and discipline among the general board members while remaining entrenched for prolonged periods of time. In extreme cases, employers are prepared for season long periods of dark activity in order to ultimately maximize employee concessions.

Over the past few years, the strategy has been quite successful in some locations; at the Philadelphia Orchestra, musicians decided against putting up much of a struggle and at the SPCO, the musicians’ opposition eventually fractured and imploded then acquiesced to employer demands.

In all likelihood, the $71,000 won’t be enough to derail a well designed New Model Army approach in a direct spending war. At the same time, it may be sufficient to buy just enough time to allow other pressure points to reach critical effectiveness.

In the end, money still matters and if one side can set aside enough to outspend the other by a sizable margin, it can not only change the dynamic of the labor dispute but influence the overall strategic direction of institution.

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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15 thoughts on “Is $71,000 Enough To Matter In Minnesota?”

  1. The $71, 000 is for AFM Local 30-73, to help make up for the work dues the local has not been getting during the lock-out, and yes, it IS a lot of money and I imagine it CAN make quite a difference to the local.

    Here in Louisville, the AFM Local survives far more on the Louisville Orchestra members workdues than on anything else, and the pressure from the Local to cave during our protracted lockout became great. Fortunately, we were able to outlast that pressure and get a settlement that may allow the LO AND the local to survive into the foreseeable future, and the next election brought about change in the local’s leadership to one that should be more capable of seeing the larger picture..

  2. As vice-president of the Denver Musicians Association it was amazing to witness the outpouring of financial support for AFM Local 30-73. As Drew states, in the big picture it is not a lot of money, but I think we are missing the point. I witnesses officers of very small AFM locals who attended the AFM convention of their own dime make donations out of their own pockets. If the survival of unions and orchestras depended on money alone, we would all be out of business now. Solidarity is a powerful force and can trump money.

  3. Drew,
    This was anything but just another AFM Convention. The entire AFM administration was re-elected – a first, showing the trust it had developed among the delegates during the last three years. The administration’s financial package, adopted on the first vote after being tweaked by the Law & Finance Committee, brings much need new revenue to a union which had practically been bled dry during the ten years of the administration deposed at the last convention.

    Most importantly to the symphonic industry, a new bylaw written in response to the Philly/AFM-EPF debacle, facilitates AFM and pension fund input for locals and orchestra bargaining committees faced with management’s lowering of pension funding or demands to withdraw completely from the fund. Weakening the AFM-EPF effects every AFM musician whether or not s(he) plays in an orchestra.

    Indeed, the outpouring of support to the Twin Cities Local was unique and something uplifting to see especially in light of the AFM’s live streaming, another first time endeavor.

  4. The work dues paid to the Local are usually a small per capita percentage of wages under a CBA. While I don’t know the details of what the MO’s work dues are, I’m sure the $71K is going to be an enormous help to the Local. Additionally, ICSOM, OCSM and ROPA orchestras have donated to both the MO and SPCO Musicians Associations. Again, I don’t know the exact figure, but it’s surely a significant sum that goes directly to the musicians themselves.

    Is it enough compared to the vast resources of the boards of the MOA and SPCO? To Wells Fargo and US Bank? Of course not. Although money matters as you say, there’s a bigger story happening here as I see it: the re-awakening of the AFM. I’m trying not to be naïve or optimistic, but I watched that morning’s session on the Livestream video set up on the AFM website and it really was a sight to behold. I was quite moved as person after person took the floor, pledging what they could either individually or on behalf of their Locals while frantically calling their executive boards to get authorization to donate more. Some people even increased their previous pledges. As you mentioned, even the IATSE camera operator donated. (I sent a check as well this morning on my own behalf.)

    This is what Organized Labor is supposed to be: the idea that an injury to another musician is an injury to all of us; that we have a shared responsibility to help our brothers and sisters in trouble. The AFM is comprised of many Locals, each with their own responsibilities. (For example, some Locals have a greater number of rock or jazz musicians who play clubs) In the past, it’s fair to say that provincial interests had often created divisions within the Federation. I’m not suggesting those divisions have magically disappeared, but I think everyone understands how high the stakes are; not just for the Minnesota Orchestra, but for our field in general.

    The AFM is awake and has come together to fight the New Model Army.

    Adam De Sorgo
    Vice-President, AFM Florida Gulf Coast Local 427-721

  5. The MOA has been using a PR firm for years (most imfamously, for how to “spin” the “bad financial news” after two years of “good news” resulting solely from endowment draw-downs in order to get public money for Hall upgrades).

    The SPCO musicians were blindsided for the most part and didn’t have a chance to build up war chests. Then, too there was no unanimous viewpoint and dissension was helped along by management. “Divide and conquer” is a management specialty.

    Right now I’d be willing to bet there is more money being donated to the union than to the MOA . . . .

    • First of all, thanks for the shout-out. The short answer to your question is “yes, it does matter.” I have no insider info about the state of Local 30-73’s finances, but I would guess that what was raised is between 10% and 20% of the combination of what the Local has lost and work dues and incurred in additional expenses as a result of the lock-outs. So it’s a substantive contribution, although I’m sure it doesn’t restore the Local’s finances to whatever might have been considered “normal” in past negotiating years.

      But more important is the symbolism. Lots of money has been contributed to the SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra musicians by other orchestras and other locals as well; certainly way more than $71,000. And there was no way that the current AFM administration was not going to make sure that the Local, one way or another, was able to support the musicians adequately in its representational role, although they don’t have a lot of money either.

      But this avalanche of support – started, I am proud to say, by the Midstates Conference, to which both Local 30-73 and my local belong – is symbolic of two very important new facts. The first is that everyone in the AFM – including those who were skeptical of Locals in the past – reqcognizes that the Local is not just a servce-for-dollars business, but that the Local’s support for the musicians matters in many ways. This was an outpouring of support for the Local, not only because the Local needed it, but because the Local deserved it.

      The second is that this lock-out became the emotional center of this AFM Convention, and is now universally recognized within the entire AFM as an existential struggle that must not be lost due to any failure of will or resources on the union’s part. No orchestral labor dispute has ever had that importance to the AFM before.

      Any employers paying attention will read significance into that. Unfortunately, the current leadership of the Minnesota Orchestra may not.

  6. Drew; is there a chance, even just a slight one, that in 2010 orchestra managers and boards saw your survey and thought that there might be enough weakness in the support of the AFM and their locals that 2010 was the time to put the full-court press on orchestra members under the title of the new “21st Century Model”? It was in 2010 that all of this started to be thrown at musician negotiating committees.

    I would bet orchestra managers and boards had other data corroborating this majority but soft support for the AFM. Granted the recession was still in full throttle at that time, but it does give one pause and makes one wonder. I recall the famous Rahm Emanuel quote “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

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