Is Minnesota The New AFM Line In The Sand?

Last week’s article examining a recent outpouring of support for the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Minneapolis-St. Paul Local 30-73 in the form of a $71,000 donation from a diverse collection of other AFM Locals and individuals, produced some intriguing comments. One from Milwaukee Symphony Principal Violist and President of AFM Local 8, Robert Levine, contains what might be considered by some as a line in the sand concerning how much importance the AFM places on the current Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) work stoppage.

[The MOA] 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.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-023Perhaps unsurprisingly, determining conditions for victory or failure in a labor dispute are arguable, yet elemental, aspects of determining whether or not any sort of rediscovered sense of camaraderie throughout the AFM will not only impact the MOA work stoppage but have any substantive impact on other orchestral employers.

For example, presume that the AFM leadership indeed adopts what Levine suggests and goes all-in with their resources and doubles down on resolve to achieve their goals in what Levine defined as an existential struggle. Likewise, presume the MOA leadership adopts a similar position by going so far as to embrace the notion of allowing the entire 2013/14 season to go dark and allow the institution to enter either reorganization bankruptcy that produces the sort of agreement they are currently seeking.

In the end, the outcomes are defined by having a clear loser in order to have a winner. And to play Devil’s Advocate, how is the AFM’s renewed commitment supposed to dissuade other orchestra boards and CEOs from adopting a similarly destructive governance attitude to what we’ve been witnessing at the MOA?

Two thoughts come to mind:

  1. The AFM and its Locals certainly can’t endure an incessant financial assault.
  2. With regard to influencing orchestral employers, I’m reminded of a phrase coined by comedian Ron White: “You can’t fix stupid.”

Through the lens of that perspective, the entire state of affairs begins to resemble a basket case remedied more by attrition than anything else.

To be very clear, this article isn’t an attempt to disapprove of nor endorse any course of action or ideology; instead, it is designed to get you thinking through some very complex questions. Ultimately, that journey will be just as valuable, if not more, than wherever you arrive.

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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4 thoughts on “Is Minnesota The New AFM Line In The Sand?”

  1. Drew: There are certainly actions that the MO Board could take that would hard for any union to fight; simply closing down the operation, with or without bankruptcy, is one of them. But resources and resolve do matter in many other scenarios; if the MO board attempted to replace the orchestra, for example.

    I think what’s happened already has suggested to managements elsewhere that what passes for a “bargaining strategy” in the minds of the MO board is not a good idea. This might be the second line the AFM and its musicians have laid down; don’t walk in with ridiculous proposals (especially in the middle of successful fundraising for capital projects) and expect us to meet you half-way. The first, of course, was “don’t think about leaving the AFM-EPF without a huge and very costly fight.”

    It’s hard to prove that such lines, when enforced, really change management behavior. The good managements weren’t going to go there anyway. But I’ve been hearing that some recent negotiations have begun with assurances that the management wasn’t interested in “pulling a Minnesota.” Tim Zavadil alluded to that in his speech to the Convention as well.

    I suspect most within the AFM recognize that union power has limits when dealing with employers like the MO Board. But we’re coming to realize that the limits are not necessarily where we thought they were. And, when expanding the envelope, money helps a lot.

  2. I t seems to me that the existential question were talking about applies equally to both sides. Are we in the business of making music or leveraged buyouts? No outcome in Minnesota will undo the damage that has been done, and I do believe that some of our friends in the front office understand this.

  3. “[The MOA] 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.”

    These words, if true, should frighten anyone on either side who cares about resolving the dispute.

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