Met Negotiations Progress As Anticipated

A move that might be best described as entirely expected, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra musicians unanimously authorized their negotiating committee to call a strike if negotiations fail to produce a new agreement after the current one expires on Thursday, July 31, 2014.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-073Interestingly enough, the 5/12/2014 edition of the New York Times reported that the “union representing the orchestra…vot[e]d to authorize a strike should negotiations with management fail.”

This is a bit misleading as it makes it seem that these decisions are made by elected union officials rather than the actual musicians; instead, decisions such as strike authorization votes and ratifying an agreement are done by the rank and file musicians; more often than not via a majority rule vote. Consequently, the local union office representing the musicians is not in a position to initiate such decisions.

In short, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) has no more authority to authorize a group of orchestra or opera musicians to strike than Met General Manager, Peter Gelb, has to initiate a lockout. The only individuals with that authority are the Met’s board of directors.

But from a broader perspective, approving a strike authorization vote 10 weeks in advance of the current agreement’s expiration is traditionally a strong indication of a tough bargaining environment and/or conflict between one or more negotiators from both sides.

In the end, a strike authorization is a tool and like any bargaining tool, it can be wielded in a clumsy, antagonistic fashion or as a no-nonsense method for mitigating brinkmanship. Given how far in advance of the expiration date this authorization was approved, the latter scenario is more likely. At the same time, it is certainly not a guarantee that both parties will cut to the chase and reach a deal before the end of July.

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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