So Much For Good Faith Bargaining

The increasingly resourceful Emily E. Hogstad posted a fascinating exposé on 8/21/2013 which reveals the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) purchased 13 domain names associated with typical audience support efforts during labor disputes. The smoking gun here is according to WHOIS records, all of the domain names were registered for a period of two years on the purchase dates of 5/24/12 and 5/25/12.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-125Perhaps unsurprisingly, most folks won’t be shocked to learn that the MOA was digging the proverbial trenches for a long term siege well in advance of talks officially breaking down. Simply put, it is a clear indication that the employer had little to no intention for negotiating in good faith.

The real head-scratcher here is how brazen the MOA’s domain squatting efforts are. For instance, the WHOIS records clearly indicate that the MOA purchased and currently owns the domain names and made the deliberate decision not to register the names with what is known as domain privacy; which does an enormously effectively job at masking the owner’s identity. The service is inexpensive and can be applied at the same moment the domain name is registered.

Moreover, domain names can be registered for as short one year but the MOA decided to increase costs and go for the two year registrations. The decision brings up more questions than it answers with regard to professed claims of prudent fiscal management.

Speaking Of Dubious Tactics During Labor Disputes

Anyone with a burning desire to get wind of the MOA’s intentions during this critical period of Osmo Vanska’s impending resignation deadline would be wise to consider the following orchestra operations insider nuggets:

  • Orchestras that expect to perform in venues they don’t own or operate usually have some form of minimum cancellation clause with a 30-90 day advance notice. If someone knew a venue the MOA was prepared to use, s/he could always contact the venue’s administrative office and inquire about whether the facility was available for rent on the date the MOA would have occupied the space. This line of reasoning could be extended to transportation, lighting and sound equipment rentals, catering, and related services associated with the respective event(s).
  • Orchestras book guest artists (conductors, soloists, acts, etc.) one or more in advance and usually have some form of minimum cancellation clause with a 30-90 day advance notice. If someone knew which guest artists the MOA reserved for September through November, 2013 you could contact the artist and/or his/her representation inquiring about availability during what would have otherwise been a date reserved for the MOA.

Do you see the trend yet?

Pretty much any service, facility, or consumable an orchestra would need to arrange related to an event is something that can likely be tracked. In fact, cancellations can even go in the opposite direction, as was the recent decision from the MOA’s record label, BIS, to cancel upcoming recording sessions in September, 2013 (details).

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 “So Much For Good Faith Bargaining”

  1. It becomes increasingly clear that the MOA leadership is “The Gang who Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” This clumsy domain name grab is reminiscent of the Watergate burglar who kept a door unlocked by using masking tape horizontally exposed to the outside world, instead of vertically hidden. The domain name purchase wasn’t illegal; it was just stupid and mean-spirited. Anyone who believed in the competence and integrity of these people now has a new smoking gun to deal with. Before joining the lynch mob, however, it’s important to remember the departure of any key MOA leaders would be meaningless if the disastrous business plans, attitude, and checks-and-balances-free governance structure they instituted and exploited remain intact. These are the things that have to change for the long-term health of the Minnesota Orchestra.

  2. These sorts of antics are hardly unheard of in politics, where relationships between candidates are primarily adversarial and the game (at least in the U.S.) is of a zero-sum nature, where one candidate winning invariably means the other candidate loses.

    However, it’s an awfully brazen (and as you noted, Drew, clumsy) approach for one stakeholder to take in a symbiotic relationship where all the stakeholders should be pulling in the same general direction.

    For nearly a year, the position of the MOA has been to shelve the organization’s mission entirely in order to make its sacrifice at the altar of “sustainability,” another fine example of industry jargon that elevates balanced budgets (no matter how ruthless and/or ham-handed the manner) over fulfilling the mission statement.

    That isn’t to say that responsibility isn’t important, of course. But every non-profit would be theoretically more sustainable if it spent less money. Spending less money, of course, generally means sacrificing either the reach or the quality of the product, which is usually where the mission statement is focused.

    Board members aren’t affected financially. Members of executive leadership aren’t much affected financially. And they appear quite content at this point to shelve the organization’s mission indefinitely because any kind of compromise – whether negotiated directly with musicians or through a mediator – has come to represent defeat.

    Just as with the Colorado Symphony a few years ago, what this organization needs more than anything is a massive overhaul of board and executive leadership. And like Colorado, it might well need that overhaul before it can navigate a way out of this mess.

    • The issue of people vs. process is likely going to be a key element in how all of this unfolds. Even the high-minded ideals expressed in Alan Fletcher’s address about no preconditions among the musician stakeholders that includes changes in leadership before moving forward are seriously challenged in the wake of each Nixonesque discovery.

      • Thanks for the shoutout, Drew.

        I had to make a decision whether or not to publicize Domaingate before or after the forum… I ultimately chose “after” of my respect for the people involved with Orchestrate Excellence and their earnest desire for an event that looked toward the future. Plus, my friends had given the tidbit to the press in the Twin Cities, and I was waiting to see if someone more mainstream would bite (they didn’t). But I imagine I’ll second-guess this decision for a long time. And it was admittedly pretty awkward sitting in the pew and on that information.

        I’d be interested in hearing Alan Fletcher’s response to this information, and if it would have changed any of what he said, knowing the MOA had (apparently) planned for audience resistance months in advance.

  3. Hopefully someone will ask – if they haven’t already. The timing of everything is acute right now.

    It’s been an amazing 48 hours, hasn’t it? No wonder Save Our Symphony Minnesota has over 3000 Facebook Likes since its launch Wed.

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