The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) announced that it has cancelled all nine concert events scheduled through 10/27/2016 due to the ongoing musician strike. The decision to cut nearly one month of programming is rarely a good sign when it comes to ending a work stoppage but given how far apart both sides appear to be via their proposed salary terms, none of this should come as a surprise.
According to an article by Elizabeth Bloom in the 10/3/2016 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it appears that the employer has decided to engage in zero sum bargaining.
The management’s negotiating team was “mandated” by the PSO board not to budge any further on the matter of musicians’ salaries, [PSO COO Christian Schornich] said.
From a historical perspective, zero sum bargaining is one of the hardest of old-school competitive bargaining tactics. In this approach, one side sets a fixed value for a negotiated resource, such as salary. When bargaining goes public, it is common to see the side employing this strategy present their position as one of flexibility. There are claims of willingness to discuss how and where resources are allocated, but only if the cumulative total remains unchanged.
Zero sum bargaining has been the hallmark for some of the most contentious negotiations since the economic downturn. Due to its very nature, it is next too impossible to arrive at a settlement that doesn’t require one party to lose in order for the other to win.
It was used during the Hartford Symphony and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra labor disputes and in both of those occurrences, the musicians capitulated and absorbed sizable concessions. However, a similar approach at the Metropolitan Opera labor showdown and the Minnesota Orchestra during their season long work stoppage ended up badly for the employers.
Assuming the PSO maintains this strategy, it will be interesting to see where they end up as it rarely produces anticipated long term results.