Eerily Familiar Language

The 5/21/2016 edition of TechCrunch published an article by Devin Coldewy that reports on a speech given by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) about the gig economy (such as Uber, not musician related gigging) that touches on some remarkably familiar concepts inside the orchestra field.

Here’s an excerpt of Warren’s speech included in the TechCrunch article (emphasis added):

The gig economy didn’t invent any of these problems. In fact, the gig economy has become a stopgap for some workers who can’t make ends meet in a weak labor market. The much-touted virtues of flexibility, independence, and creativity offered by gig work might be true for some workers under some conditions, but for many, the gig economy is simply the next step in a losing effort to build some economic security in a world where all the benefits are floating to the top 10%.

Adaptistration People 146Inside the orchestra field, the approach of spinning musician wage cuts as increased flexibility, independence, and creativity to pursue personal artistic projects is a Labor Dispute 101 tactic that has been a go-to employer talking point, especially since the 2008 economic downturn.

Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to see the issue become a mainstream talking point within the national arena. Watching major political figures like Warren criticize the cornerstone of employment schemes from companies like Uber with such polished language could have a ripple effect on the orchestra field.

Specifically, it will be interesting to see if musician employees will begin incorporating her vernacular and approach into their own dated strategies whenever these points surface during a future labor dispute.

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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3 thoughts on “Eerily Familiar Language”

  1. Some version of universal health care, whatever you call it, would be the single thing that could reduce some panic and pain from the lives of workers of any type, but especially gig and 1099 workers. On the other hand, it could let employers short them. But withal, it would be a positive.

    • Warren’s speech included suggested changes and the TechCrunch article author offered up similar insights.this will be one of the most interesting areas to watch. Will these struggles produce new legislation or will things go through the courts, such as the recent suit against uber in CA where even though the company settled, the substantial sum provides validation for the existing model Warren is speaking out against.

      If this does reach a point where legislative or executive efforts begin to gain momentum, keen observers will keep an eye on the respective performing arts service organizations (for the orchestra field, that would be The League of American Orchestra) lobbying efforts. Will they allocate lobbying efforts to push back against the sorts of reforms Warren suggests or remain out of the conversation?

      As for the musicians’ unions, it would be surprising to see them fail to adopt a public position supporting legislation that embodies Warren’s current efforts.

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