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.
Shortly 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 HartfordBusiness.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.