No settlement in Detroit

There’s a management offer on the table, and a management-dictated deadline to accept it or the else, but there’s no agreement between the negotiating teams:

Detroit Symphony Orchestra management made what it calls a final offer to musicians tonight, requesting an up-or-down vote on the contract proposal by 5 p.m. Thursday.

The move — which comes in the wake of five days of talks during which the two sides found common ground on some key issues but remained divided on a number of others, including base pay — starts the clock ticking again toward a possible cancellation of the season as early as Thursday.


DSO Executive Vice President Paul Hogle declined to discuss specifics but speaking broadly said that the two sides had made “considerable progress” since Friday, reaching consensus on a number of work-rule issues, benefit issues such as health care and an approach to community service work including chamber music.

However, Hogle confirmed that conflicts remain over the fundamental issue of base-pay compensation, rules governing electronic media distribution and the size of the ensemble.

“The negotiating team is optimistic that this is a very constructive offer,” Hogle said.

Cellist Haden McKay, a spokesman for the musicians, declined to address specifics of the proposal or the musicians’ likely response pending a meeting with the full orchestra scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday. He struck a more measured tone than management.

“At certain points during the weekend, we thought progress had been made,” McKay said. “At this point, we’re really not so sure.”

The bit about “rules governing electronic media distribution” is, for me, the “tell” that management is still pushing an agenda beyond simple expense control. Anyone who knows anything about electronic media knows that nothing the DSO will do in that area will make any money, and that there are already lots of ways to do media cheaply.

If the hole is as deep in Detroit as management keeps saying (and no one disputes that it’s deep), then why is one of the the remaining blocks to an agreement that is essential for the orchestra’s future a management proposal to do something completely irrelevant to the orchestra’s survival?

The first rule of concessionary bargaining is that, if managements need concessions, they shouldn’t ask for extraneous crap at the same time. Asking for the stuff that DSO management has put on the table, and holding on to even some of it at this point in the process, is evidence of either incompetence or bad faith.

How does the DSO put on a season next year in the absence of a season this year and an agreement for next year?

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.


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  • Hi Joe.

    Do you really believe that electronic media is “completely irrelevant to the orchestra’s survival?”

    Over the long term, no. But in terms of what they need to do to survive now – if a proposal re EM is standing in the way of a settlement, then it’s doing harm and not good. EM may not be irrelevant, but a settlement is essential in a way that EM isn’t over the short term.

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