More details on the Detroit negotiations

The AFM put out a press release yesterday (February 20) which contained some interesting details on the most recent negotiations:

Although Senator Carl Levin and Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert had stepped in last week to help broker an agreement, DSO management did not show up at face-to-face meetings with the arbitrators until the third and final day. Then, management waited until Levin and Gilbert had left the meeting to make significant changes to the proposals the two had worked on.

In the end, the musicians’ negotiating committee recommended rejection of management’s latest offer, which included a large increase in employee healthcare deductibles, required employees to cover travel costs for assignments up to 75 miles away, and significantly reduced the DSO commitment to community outreach, among other unreasonable concessions.

Obviously this is the union-side version, and management might have their own. But, assuming it’s accurate (and I make that assumption), it does appear that management has been speaking with forked tongue. But then very little DSO management has done during this saga has made much sense to me, at least if I start from the premise that they want a deal.

I’m coming to believe that may not be the right premise, though.

BBB Charles Noble wrote about the situation here (h/t Drew McManus). He did the great service of including the complete text of both the musicians’ and management’s press releases. They’re worth reading in full.

One of the remaining issues seems to be the status of the principal librarian; management wants to remove that position from the bargaining unit, while the musicians refuse to agree. It’s not an issue that should even be on the table at this point, being a violation of the cardinal rule of Asking for Financial Relief, which is: don’t ask for anything other than financial relief. Having said that, I can certainly imagine circumstances in which some of what the musicians are refusing to agree to might be reasonable concessions.

But I hope the board of the DSO isn’t quite as clueless as this remark from James B. Nicholson, past DSO board chair and chair of the management-side negotiating committee would make them appear to be:

It’s unfortunate the Union bargaining committee is depriving its members of the careers their professional skills have earned.

It really can’t be that no one has told him that the bargaining committee only makes recommendations; the members vote on whether to accept them. Can it?

An optimist would believe that this line from the first paragraph of the management press release continues to offer a tiny, dim ray of hope that all is not lost:

Prospects of rescheduling concerts originally within the season, resuming the 2011 Summer Orchestral Season and announcing a 2011-12 calendar remain possible pending a settlement.

But I suspect it’s not the first tiny, dim ray of a new sunrise but rather a reflection off the fast-approaching bottom of the mineshaft the DSO is plummeting down at terminal velocity.

I will venture a prediction: if this doesn’t get settled soon, all of us with any power or influence in the orchestra industry are going to bitterly regret that we didn’t do everything in our power to get it settled.

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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