Sometimes, the most influential occurrences fly entirely under the radar. Case in point, an ongoing labor disagreement at the St. Louis Symphony (SLS) that may influence whether music librarians can be included in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and therefore entitled to the same compensation, benefits, and protections as other orchestra musicians.
The disagreement is straightforward: the SLS musicians believe librarians they should be included in the CBA, the employer doesn’t.
Both sides have been fighting over this topic and it went so far as the Region 14 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) where the regional director ruled in favor of the musicians (details: NLRB Case Number 14-RC-236036).
In the wake of that ruling, the SLS filed a motion for the national NLRB to review and overturn the Regional director’s decision. Currently, the issue has yet to be resolved.
This is not a new topic.
Orchestral employers and musicians have been struggling over this issue for decades.
For example, it was among the fundamental sticking points during the Detroit Symphony Orchestra labor dispute from 2011 where the employer was seeking to remove librarians from the CBA. At that time, the employer asserted music librarians “have some musical ability…[but they] perform more as managers than they do as musicians.”
We examined this in more detail in an article from 2011.
In the SLS’ motion, they are relying on the position that the head librarian functions as an employee with supervisory duties and responsibilities (their argument begins on page 14). As a result, the employee is not able to qualify as a union member.
Without taking a week-long trip to Lawyerville, the oversimplified detour is if an employee’s position includes duties and responsibilities that can be considered supervisory in nature, the employee may not be part of a CBA. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of these roads are littered with potholes over what constitutes “supervisory in nature.”
Why This Matters
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this comes down to money and control.
Orchestras paying musicians a living wage with health care and retirement benefits tend to pay entry level and middle managers far less than what it costs to employ the least expensive on-stage musician.
As a result, if the employer can keep the librarian out of the CBA, they get an employee to do the same amount of work for less money.
The employer also has an easier time firing music librarians who aren’t members of the CBA. “Is your 20-year veteran music librarian complaining about needing a raise? Just fire them and replace with a less expensive option.”
If the world of music librarians is new to you, I strongly recommend taking a moment to read a wonderful guest author post from Boston Symphony Orchestra Principal Librarian, D. Wilson Ochoa (who is a member of that orchestra’s CBA). Ochoa is a librarian’s librarian and is easily one of the most respected professionals in the field among both arts administrators and musicians.