Slow Going In Hartford Despite NLRB Ruling

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the independent federal agency responsible for safeguarding employees’ rights to organize and remedy unfair labor practices committed by private sector employers and unions, recently determined that the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO) failed to bargain in good faith with its musicians and their union, the Connecticut Valley Federation of Musicians (CVFM), Local 400 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), when they failed to provide an offer of employment by a May, 2015 deadline.

Adaptistration People 157Shortly after the deadline passed, the musicians filed the charge and there appears to be at least one more filed against HSO in September, 2015. The latest charge has yet to be settled and includes allegations of the employer deliberately wasting time by going through the motions of negotiating with no real intent to settle and attempting to circumvent elected union representatives by engaging other musicians on negotiation related topics.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the HSO denies the allegations and continues to issue a textbook response to inquiries, as demonstrated by this statement in the 9/9/2015 edition of

Responding to the NLRB complaint, HSO CEO David Fay [who also serves as CEO of the Bushnell Performing Arts Center (BPAC), which provides all administrative services for the HSO] said: “The Hartford Symphony Orchestra continues to negotiate in good faith with the American Federation of Musicians in the hope of securing a new contract. We look forward to working constructively with the union to resolve all remaining contract issues in the very near future.”

In the field of labor relations, that’s a PR equivalent of a flick of the wrist dismissal.

At this point, options are growing increasingly limited as the beginning of the HSO’s season rapidly approaches. Their first scheduled masterworks performance is Thursday, October 1, 2015 and unless both sides reach an agreement, here are the most likely options you can expect.

Partial Agreement

If both parties are able to reach agreement on the majority of critical items, it isn’t unheard of to leave other issues such as health care benefits and pensions to ongoing negotiations. In these instances, conditions for continued bargaining are spelled out in a side letter to the newly signed collective bargaining agreement and the subsequent resolutions, once ratified by both parties, will be incorporated into the master agreement.

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Play and Talk

In this scenario, both sides agree to continue with scheduled events while negotiations ensue. Variables include written agreements stipulating the play and talk conditions such as whether or not the terms of the previous agreement continue unaltered until a new agreement is reached and/or imposing a new bargaining deadline.

Sometimes, both sides will agree to play and talk without any written agreement. Regardless of which version is utilized, this option is used most frequently as it offers a pressure release for everyone involved although it does not guarantee any particular outcome.

Play and Talk

Work Stoppage

This option comes in two varieties; when musicians institute a work stoppage it is called a strike and when it is initiated by management it is called a lockout. It isn’t unusual for both sides to claim the other has initiated the work stoppage but the ultimate definition can be crucial when determining how the conflict is resolved. If the source of the work stoppage is indeed questioned, the matter is typically resolved by state and/or Federal authorities.

Regardless, under this option all scheduled events and activity will cease although both sides have been known to conduct ancillary concert action. For example, musicians can put on their own concerts and the association can turn into something of a presenter by bringing in performing arts acts, although these rarely include a full orchestra. It is most unusual to see an employer attempt to hire replacement musicians to carry on scheduled concert events.

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Imposing A Contract

In this option, management will impose the terms of their last, best, and final offer (or a variation thereof). The claim here from management is that they are not initiating a lockout and musicians must report for contracted service duties, but under the terms of the imposed agreement.

This is arguably the most passive-aggressive option as it requires the musicians to either accept the offer or initiate a work stoppage by going on strike. However, other options include legal action that requires a judge to step in render a decision on whether or not an employer can enforce the terms of a contract.

Ultimately, imposing a contract is a high-risk option that carries a number of variables that are beyond control of either side. Consequently, its volatile nature makes this a dangerous option as outcomes are not dissimilar from the “solution of mass destruction” nature inherent with work stoppages.

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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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8 thoughts on “Slow Going In Hartford Despite NLRB Ruling”

  1. Yesterday’s demonstration by orchestra members, AFM officials and Local 802 (NY) members in front of Bushnell Auditorium – the orchestra’s home – evidenced the dire straits of the current situation. Management’s demands amounting to cutting musicians’ income by 40% while limiting their ability to take other work are egregious. The NRLB’s decision should have been enough to force a resolution of this dispute. So far, no cigar.

    • Many thanks for that link NYMike, that article was new to me.

      I do wish Ray Hair would stop saying things like “…musicians, and not management, are an orchestra’s most important asset.”

      Simply put, the organization doesn’t exist without both and it’s nothing but insulting to middle and entry level managers who have zero control over the dispute. Although this is strictly my opinion on the matter, a union should be equally concerned about the rights of all workers so devaluing a stagehand, marketing coordinator, etc. with that sort of blanket phrasing only projects an myopic image of self-interest at all costs.

      Hair desperately needs to learn how to direct outrage in a more productive fashion, specifically, toward the individuals I believe that comment was likely intended, the CEO & board exec. committee, instead of lumping every single person working in an off-stage capacity into a ham-handed characterization.

      It’s that sort of approach that makes the AFM look like a stereotype and ultimately degrades the value of meaningful points associated with that comment; in the end, it only damages the musicians’ position.

      There’s no shortage of problems with the executive leadership’s approach (i..e the CEO and board executive committee) and if allowed to unfold as planned, the HSO stands a high degree of likelihood for entering into a decade long retraction spiral.

      But back to the subject matter in this post, I don’t have a high degree of hope that any subsequent NLRB ruling will have much influence on moving the board out of its current entrenched position. Time will tell.

      Thanks again for the link, it’s a good article!

      • Drew – while I reserve comment on your description of Ray Hair’s “ham-handedness,” AFM Locals 802, 47 and others have excellent relations with IATSE and other stage unions. Remember how tight the major unions were in last year’s Met Opera negotiations? Had they not been so, the unprecedented oversight on Gelb’s spending couldn’t have been achieved. Further, musicians in some orchestras have actually taken over management, so Hair might be half-right ?

      • I would be surprised if the sort of inter-union relationships aren’t exactly the way you described in most cases, but that doesn’t include the rest of the administrative staff I referenced (the vast majority of which are not represented by a union).

        It’s that old-school approach of using the blanket term “management” that is increasingly short-sighted and out of touch. In the end, it’s unnecessarily divisive and more than a little disrespectful to those entry level and middle managers.

        While there are numerous examples of a musician serving in a key admin position, I can’t think of one example where 100 percent of the admin positions have been absorbed by musicians (especially not a living wage orchestra). Which group(s) are you thinking of, or are you thinking outside the confines of ROPA and ICSOM ensembles?

  2. The Denver Symphony which became the CO Symphony and the New Orleans Phil which became the LA Phil are two that come to mind – both ICSOM. Both were taken over by their musicians. Administrative staffs came afterward……

    To union musicians in a contentious situation, management means CEO, Bd of Directors, etc. – not people working in the subscription dept. or ordering the printed programs, e.g.

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