Playing Fast And Loose In Nashville

In a sign that the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations currently underway between the NSO and its musicians may be getting hot, both the employer and the musicians have started playing fast and loose with the mutually agreed upon media blackout.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-050Ideally, a media blackout means no public discussions through spokespersons or official outlets (press statements, websites, social media profiles, etc.) on any topics related to bargaining. A strong indication of good faith bargaining is when both sides go out of their way to err on the side of caution and decline to talk about ancillary topics that might provide some insight into bargaining positions or proposed terms.

But in the NSO’s case, both sides started using official communication channels late last week to begin laying the groundwork for an old school public labor dispute slugfest.

On the musicians’ part, they published an article at their official website on 7/25/2013 written by NSO violinist, union steward, AFM Local 257 executive board member, and ICSOM secretary Laura Ross that focuses on negative features over the past season.

The article takes aim at everything from what Ross characterizes as inept journalistic coverage of the NSO’s foreclosure struggle with Bank of America to executive compensation as well as staking out a defensive position on musician compensation.

As for the NSO, board chairman Ed Goodrich and chief operating officer Myles MacDonald gave an interview to The Tennessean reporter Walter F. Roche Jr. that was subsequently published in the paper’s 7/26/2013 edition. The bulk of the interview covers well-worn territory in contentious bargaining environments by way of using existing cuts to leverage additional musician expense reductions via the new collective bargaining agreement.

Noticeably absent from the interview was long time NSO president and CEO Alan Valentine, who is well known in the field for maintaining exemplary standards of positive labor relations and institutional transparency.

Blowing Off Steam (hopefully)

Both efforts are such painfully obvious attempts at framing the public debate in advance of an open labor dispute that an optimistic explanation is both sides are blowing off a little steam in order to keep things cooler in actual bargaining sessions.

At the same time, they bring to mind that wonderful line from the film Red Dragon where Hannibal Lecter describes the bumbling sanitarium director’s attempts at psychoanalysis.

Ah yes Dr. Chillton. Gruesome isn’t he? Fumbles at your head like a freshman pulling at a panty girdle.

That being said, the stakes in this negotiation are too high to fall victim to paltry brinkmanship. Instead, it’s time to honor the media blackout and get back to bargaining in good faith. Failing that, and if the tone continues unabated, it would be in the NSO’s best interest if both sides agreed to mediation as soon as possible.

For now, even though the orchestra’s current collective bargaining agreement expires on 7/31/13, the real deadline shouldn’t hit until a month later when the orchestra’s first scheduled musician service arrives. Between now and then, don’t be surprised (and don’t panic) if the contract deadline comes and goes without a new agreement; and that’s precisely the insight I offered up to Nashville Business journal reporter Jamie McGee for the publication’s 7/24/2013 edition.

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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