Union Puppet Masters? They Don’t Have That Capacity.

It is a bit of a stretch to call recent events in the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) lockout as developments. But in case you missed what transpired, here’s what you need to know: two representatives from each side met in order to see if engaging in discussions with fewer participants involved might bring about some positive change. Simply put, it didn’t; but what’s worth noting is in the aftermath, representatives from both sides quickly went public with their respective PR points.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-074There was nothing new from musicians but one of the board appointed negotiation representatives, Doug Kelley, tossed out what has to be one of the most puzzling accusations yet during an radio interview with NPR’s Euan Kerr: the lack of progress is the result of a union agenda.

I think the reason that Minnesota is such a battleground is because the International Union has said they are really trying to change the business model in Minnesota and that is not successful, we can’t let that happen. And that’s why I believe the musicians have adopted what we call the stonewall strategy which is not to negotiate, not to make counteroffers.

The union Kelley referenced is the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), to which the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra belong and its Local (Local 30-73 AFM) is a signatory for the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). However, unlike other traditional organized labor negotiations, orchestra musicians are unique in that they elect their own negotiating committee from their direct members and select their own negotiator and/or attorney.

Musicians were afforded this assurance following a 1962 federal court decision which ruled that orchestras with annual budgets over $1 million were subject to being interstate commerce and therefore fell under protection of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In turn, the NLRA states:

Sec. 7. [§ 157.] Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organization, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.

Prior to 1962, and with the exception of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, orchestra boards negotiated directly with the Local President, an individual who was far more likely to play an active role in any larger national influence campaign. Consequently, Kelley’s statement is approximately half a century out of date.

In the end, the amount of influence the national AFM has on individual negotiating committees and an entire rank and file collective is quite low and the notion that national AFM leaders have the wherewithal to compel 100+ orchestra musicians to go without a paycheck for more than a year for any reason is nonsensical.

Musician representative Tim Zavadil made many of those same points in Kerr’s broadcast but at this point in the dispute it’s good to take either side’s PR points with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, from an objective perspective from someone with 20 years of experience on both sides of the fence, I can confirm that Kelley’s assertions are not just tenuous, but profoundly unsubstantiated.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of this just goes to show that not much has changed in the dispute and you should be prepared to hurry up and wait.

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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21 thoughts on “Union Puppet Masters? They Don’t Have That Capacity.”

    • Hi Michael, this isn’t a cause-effect issue; instead, it’s a best practice issue for any labor dispute that has reached this level of animosity. Regardless of the how and why it reached this point, the result is any info coming from either side must be treated as something that requires verification. Simply put, benefit of the doubt and taking statements at face value is no longer a luxury.

      • Fair enough, Drew, given your background you wish to be fair to both sides. However, from the very beginning there has been a high level of incongruity, and false or unsubstantiated statements from the MOA which has generated mistrust. Can you point to a single statement from the orchestra’s musicians that should engender the same mistrust for current information? They have been so consistent in their artistic beliefs that some are now calling them hardline or repetitious.

      • Instead of looking at it as a matter of being fair, it may perhaps be more useful to look at it from the perspective of being practical. It doesn’t matter if any supporter on the outside looking in believes one side or another implicitly; instead, prudence dictates resisting the temptation to give a blanket face value assessments.

      • You wrote that “at this point in the dispute it’s good to take either side’s PR points with a grain of salt.” While you clearly showed how a degree of scepticism applies to the MOA (or its representative), I am curious how that relates to any of the musicians’ words or actions. Did I miss something?

      • I don’t believe so Mr. Wheeler, there have been a few instances since the onset of the dispute where that has happened and if the need arises, I’m sure it will happen again. In the meantime, you’re welcome to go through the existing MN Orchestra articles.

  1. Incredibly, MOA board leaders Campbell and Davis were so excited to have a venue for their far right anti union political views that was lacking in their own banking businesses, they started their “musicians are the problem” fear mongering years ago by showing board members out-dated anti- union propoganda films, usually only found in the deep south.

    The Int’l AFM office in NY would only have been peripherally aware of negotiations in Mpls after the fact in the past ( when the local union officers would report the terms of the new contract). However, the extreme behavior of Campbell and Davis and their supposedly “clever” CEO brought on the support of unions around the country, generating unprecedented tangible financial support for the musicians. Like Henson’s failure to generate revenue, another self fulfilling prophecy.

    Kelley’s public statements to renew the board fear of a mythical union conspiracy may really just indicate the 3 MOA leaders realize they are losing control of the board and need
    the union bogeyman to keep them in line.

  2. I know this is not the main point you’re trying to make, but I need to offer a point of clarification. I think it’s important that readers of your blog know the history of labor relations in this industry. The NLRB did not begin to exercise jurisdiction over symphony orchestras until 1972, when it undertook a rule-making procedure (which I’m told Phil Sipser had something to do with) and concluded that a symphony orchestra with gross annual revenue from all sources (excluding only contributions which are because of limitation by the grantor not available for use for operating expenses) of not less than $1 million had a substantial effect on interstate commerce and that it was therefore appropriate for the Board to exercise jurisdiction over those organizations. That does not mean that there was no collective bargaining between AFM locals and symphonic employers before then, just that the NLRB would not exercise jurisdiction if a labor dispute arose.

    I’m a little mystified as to what 1962 federal court case you’re referring to but I suspect you may be thinking of the Cleveland Orchestra Committee v. Cleveland Federation of Musicians, AFM Local 4, decision that issued from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that year. In that case, the court held (in a nutshell) that the musicians, who were members of the union, did not have a right to ratify the CBA negotiated by union leadership with the employer, the Musical Arts Association because neither the LMRDA nor the bylaws of the union afforded them that right. My understanding (and here I’ll defer to those distinguished musicians who made this particular chapter of AFM history) is that this decision and the general practice of locals not giving players a voice in contract negotiations and ratification led to the formation of ICSOM, which also took place in 1962 and, ultimately, the amendment of AFM bylaws to address such concerns. Those bylaws now mandate that musicians working under a CBA are entitled to ratify the agreement and also require that a local representing musicians in symphony orchestras (as defined in the bylaws) must provide, among other things: (1) competent representation in negotiations as the situation requires and the orchestra members may reasonably request; and (2) continuing contract administration, including the handling of grievances and arbitration.

    Your larger point is correct, however. The AFM is a federation of local unions and the International Union takes its lead with regard to local matters from the musicians and their elected representatives who are on the ground and directly affected by the actions of their employers. Throughout this long and tragic dispute in Minneapolis, the AFM has continually stood ready to support the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra in whatever ways those musicians have thought most beneficial. The AFM, the players’ conferences and individual members and officers all over the country have all provided important assistance to the MO musicians and their valiant local. But at every step of the way, the musicians have taken the lead; their dedication to maintaining a world-class orchestra for a world-class city and their willingness to stand up and suffer for what they believe has been truly inspirational. To suggest that anyone other than those courageous musicians is making decisions for them is an insult and an affront. Unfortunately, Doug Kelley’s comments are just consistent with the outrageous conduct we have witnessed from the “leadership” of the MO for the past 13+ months.

    Rochelle G. Skolnick, SSD Counsel

  3. What is bizarre – and disturbing – is for MOA through attorney Kelley to accuse the musicians of secretly trying to change the business model when MOA itself has specifically stated that it is seeking to do a business model “reset.” It is now a too-common approach, mostly seen among morally challenged politicians, to accuse your opponent of doing just exactly what you are doing. Virtually every single PR effort by MOA throughout this whole ordeal has been a complete disaster. It started well before the lockout – as one “random” example, the ridiculously misleading statements MOA leadership made to the state legislature about how financially sound they were when seeking state bond funds.

    • Actually, that’s a good example. Proposing a financial analysis doesn’t rise to the level of a counter proposal or attempts to negotiate specific terms. Now, I’m not going to beat the very dead horse that is the MOA’s tired assertion that they must receive a counter proposal for a full offer. This is something I’ve written about on more than a few instances and what people should focus on is there’s nothing preventing either side from negotiating specific items. There are other examples on that same list that do rise to the level of proposing terms on specific issues, but it isn’t universal. As such, some of them qualify where others don’t.

      On a larger, more relevant, PR perspective, the musicians should simply reference all of the individual contractual items they have proposed or proposed to engage in bargaining. Offering up these items only plays into the unjustified board claims and encourages them to continue in that direction. But perhaps that is a topic for a future post.

      • In light of the red-lined MOA proposal which I think you’ve seen, I can’t begin to fathom a response or counter-proposal. Other than reject ALL of MOA’s work-rules demands recently described as indentured servitude, how else can the orchestra committee react?

      • No arguments there (and for the benefit of other readers, there’s a link below to a series of articles about the redline proposal). At the same time, that doesn’t preclude bargaining on individual items; even if the MOA doesn’t consider it a proposal, it does justify as negotiating. Assuming this transpired, it would have been a better, and far more accurate, description.

  4. I’m wondering if the quote from Doug Kelley at the top of this article might be transcribed thus:

    “I think the reason that Minnesota is such a battleground is because the International Union has said, ‘They [the Minnesota Orchestra management] are really trying to change the business model in Minnesota and that is not successful, we can’t let that happen.’ And that’s why I believe the musicians have adopted what we call the stonewall strategy which is not to negotiate, not to make counteroffers.”

    In line with Drew’s response to Jon Eisenberg above, Mr Kelley is saying that Minnesota Orchestra MANAGEMENT is trying to change the business model- and that the Union cannot let that happen. Which, incidentally, I agree with. I’ve never really seen the AFM try to CHANGE a business model- that’s not their function. And in this case, it DOES seem as though the new business model is simply “don’t do business,” which is pretty disastrous for any concerned labor group.

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