Colorado Springs Philharmonic Finds Itself On The AFM’s Unfair List

On 3/11/21 the musicians of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic (CSPhil) issued a press statement announcing the orchestra has been placed on the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) International Unfair List.

This decision is the latest waypoint following the employer’s decision to use force majeure to cancel the union contract.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this went over like a lead balloon and since then, tensions have systematically increased. Musicians have volunteered to waive an entire season of salary and mediated bargaining failed to resolve the dispute in large part due to the employer’s entrenched position on any path forward including no more union agreement.

How This Decision Impacts The Dispute

The decision to place an employer on the International Unfair List isn’t a tactic the union tosses around casually.

If the AFM determines that it has a primary labor dispute with an employer, or upon request of the AFM by a Local who determines they have a primary labor dispute with an employer, the employer may be placed on the International Unfair List.

It can have profound impact on a dispute thanks to its key provision of prohibiting members from “rendering musical services for organizations, establishments, or people who have been placed on the International Unfair List.”

Members violating the ban can be fined anywhere from $10 to $50,000 but the AFM rarely finds itself in a position to enforce infractions.

There has only been one professional US orchestra that attempted to hire musicians to replace locked out union musicians. That was the Louisville Orchestra in 2011 and it did not end well for the orchestra’s leadership.

For now, the CSPhil musicians have stated the employer will be removed from the list once they return to negotiations and reach an agreement.

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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