When It Comes To Labor Disputes, Winning Is Only The Beginning

After failing to offer musicians a contract for the 2021-22 season, the musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MA) and Local 171 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the unionized musicians, filed a complaint against the employer with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on September 4, 2021.

The NLRB recently ruled in favor of the musicians and ordered the employer to pay the musicians $274,406 in back wages.

In the compliant, the musicians charged that certain members of the SSO’s board of directors engaged in bad faith bargaining by failing to issue the contracts under the terms of the then expired contract. Like many of their peers, the musicians instituted self-produced events during the period where the employer refused to engage in similar activity.

While the ruling is decidedly a big win for the musicians, things are apparently far from over.

In the wake of the NRLB ruling, the musicians issued a public statement to announce that they voted unanimously to approve a declaration of no confidence in the SSO’s Board Management Committee, the members listed by name in the NLRB complaint as being responsible for engaging in bad faith bargaining.

While a vote of no-confidence isn’t unheard of, the musicians went an additional step by stating they would forego 100% of the settlement if that group of board members resigned.

For clarity, the musicians aren’t asking for the entire board to resign, rather, only serving members that were listed in the NLRB complaint.

At the time this article was published, a representative of the SSO board who is also among the Board Management Committee the musicians have asked to resign, Paul Friedmann, was quoted in an article by Steve Pfarrer in the 1/6/2021 edition of gazettenet.com as saying there would be no resignations.

Currently, the SSO website only includes an undated statement from the SSO board of directors titled “Meeting Our Challenges” that outlines the board’s vision for the immediate future but does not address the NLRB ruling nor the musicians’ offer.

There was no mention of whether the musicians’ vote of no-confidence or any board agenda topic about discussions related to the offer to forgive the $274,406 ruling transpired at a formal board meeting. However, a musicians’ representative, SSO principal trumpet Thomas Bergeron, was quoted in Pfarrer’s article saying the offer has yet to be accepted.

The only acknowledgement at the SSO website about the NLRB ruling is a link to a PDF copy of the official notice required by law that must remain “posted for 60 consecutive days from the date of posting and must not be altered, defaced or covered by any other material.”

For now, the musicians are asking supporters and SSO patrons to sign a petition they created at change.org demanding the Board Management Committee resign immediately. At the time this article was published, they had 864 of their 1,000-signature goal.

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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