Chicago Gets Back To The Bargaining Table, But This Time, There’s A New Variable

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According to press statements, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) and its musicians are getting back to the bargaining table with the first round of sessions scheduled for Friday, April 5, 2019. One difference this time around is the sessions will include Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service (FMCS) negotiator, Kevin Hawkins.

Chicago won’t be Hawkins’ first orchestra negotiation. In 2015, he worked with the Utah Symphony & Opera on their collective bargaining agreement.

Update, 4/4/2019, 9:00am CT: According to CSOA Communications and Public Relations Officer, Eileen Chambers, both sides have been using a FMCS negotiator intermittently since September, shortly before the expiration of the previous master agreement. However, the FMCS negotiator assigned to the project at that time was Javier Ramirez.

“Mr. Javier Ramirez participated in the negotiation sessions on September 12, 13, 14 and 15, 2018,” said Chambers.

Mr. Hawkins was assigned to the CSO negotiations in February, 2019.

For now, everyone is tight-lipped about remaining details but, in most cases, some talking is better than no talking, even if it’s through a mediator.

Fun fact: when both parties aren’t in the same room and using a mediator to deliver messages back and forth and hash out positions, that’s called shuttle negotiation.

It’s just about the dullest method of bargaining available. It also…adds…time…to…the…process. Consequently, if the CSOA and musicians are in separate rooms using shuttle negotiation, don’t expect any breaking news on Friday.

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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