Colorado Springs Discord Continues

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra (CSPO) labor dispute continues with little change from where they were months ago. What this means is while other orchestras are tooling back up for performance activity and moving ahead, the CSPO continues to shrink in their rearview mirror.

While both sides in the dispute remain in arbitration, there is no progress to report.

What has changed is an increase in local attention where KKTV recently interviewed representatives from both sides in the dispute. You can stream both interviews at the new station’s website and while both reps stayed on talking points we’ve covered here over the past year, a few items in the interview with CSPO President and CEO Nathan Newbrough are worth noting.

At the heart of the dispute is the employer’s decision to cancel the union agreement entirely rather than impose a new agreement or continue bargaining. The only other orchestra to do this was the Louisville Orchestra in 2011 and it did not end well for that organization.

Consequently, it came as a surprise when Newbrough said the following:

“This is a time when we’re renegotiating the contract with our musicians.”

The key word there is renegotiating and while there’s plenty of reason to think it was a slip of the tongue in a live setting, it isn’t really an accurate statement. I’m happy to own the fact that this is the sort of minutia that labor geeks pick up on but has less impact with others.

Having said that, there is no splitting hairs over Newbrough’s answer to a question about being placed on the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) International Unfair List.

“The unfair list doesn’t really have impact on us.”

It’s easy to see where playing this down might seem like a good approach but make no mistake, being on the Unfair List is exactly what orchestras try to avoid. You can learn more about why this is a big deal and how it impacts disputes in an article from 3/15/21 that examined this very issue.

Beyond that, I did notice Newbrough’s decision to use the ” I talked to one musician…” anonymous authority angle toward the end of the interview.

I get it. It’s an easy device to use but it is bothersome when someone in a figure of authority uses a subordinate without their knowledge nor permission in a conversation where, if it actually happened, anything they may have said in the opposite would put them at risk of retaliation.

Part of an executive’s responsibility is to resist urges to abuse their authority at the cost of any employee’s dignity and security. Simply put, there’s no place for this in a 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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