Another deadline in Detroit

DSO management has apparently set yet another deadline:

The musicians claimed management set an April 1 deadline for a deal or the summer season would be lost and the fall season would be jeopardized. They also said management was unwilling to meet at the bargaining table before the Friday deadline. The two sides have not met face to face since February.

“You can’t hammer out the Treaty of Versailles without going back to the table,” musicians’ spokesman Greg Bowens said. “You have to be able to sit there and talk face to face.”

In a statement, DSO board chair Stanley Frankel responded that the negotiating teams and attorneys from both sides and community mediators have in fact been meeting via phone and email every day for weeks.

“We’re happy to report that substantial progress has been earned this way,” he said. “We are convinced a settlement is within reach and that all energies in these next few days must be dedicated to achieving that goal including, when the time is right, meeting face to face.”

Both sides have acknowledged that the two sides are getting closer to a deal. An email sent last Thursday from management’s lawyer Bernard Plum to musicians’ lawyer Leonard Leibowitz suggests three remaining stumbling blocks:

  • Management wants a third year financial package of $11.6 million rather than the $12.3 million proposed by the musicians.
  • The musicians want a 35-week contract but management wants 36 weeks.
  • Management wants pay for recordings and broadcasts, including online initiatives, folded into base pay rather than on top of scale.

“Once we get these critical items done there is a reasonable prospect of resolving everything else,” Plum said in the email obtained by the Free Press.

A “reasonable prospect”? Why would admittedly “non-critical” items get in the way after the critical items were resolved? It seems as if management is giving itself some wiggle room on just what really needs to go their way. And why is media still a “critical item”? Just how much media activity does DSO management think is likely to materialize over the next three years? Or is this supposedly “critical” item the fact management doesn’t think it should pay anything extra for media simply on principle?

The proposal rejected last month by the musicians would have dropped base salaries about 23%, to a low of $80,000 from last year’s $104,650. Another $7,100 would have been available to musicians who volunteered for outreach work. (With seniority and premium pay for titled positions, most musicians make more than the base.)

The musicians’ previous counteroffer had proposed base salaries that dropped to $80,000 but rose to $91,000 in the third year with a few thousand more available in optional pay for outreach work. Neither side would release details of their current offer.

Since the start of the dispute, the two sides have wrestled over size of the so-called recovery in the third year of the deal. The musicians have argued that a substantial bump in pay is necessary for the DSO to retain its top-tier status and quality; management has resisted a final-year recovery that sets the bar beyond what the financially crippled institution can afford in the long run.

But, according to earlier in the article, the parties are separated by a grand total of $700K – and one week – in the third year. That’s hardly “wrestling” at this point. Admittedly it’s bigger than a rounding error on a budget the size of the DSO’s – but it’s three years out, and anyone that believes they can forecast what the state of the national and local economy is going to be in three years is smoking something. And does DSO management know what it’s going to be doing with that extra week they want in year 3? So it’s reasonable to ask just why they’re being so stubborn at this point.

Regarding the summer season, representatives of the DSO’s primary venues — Greenfield Village, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House and Meadow Brook Music Festival — have told the Free Press that they haven’t set a drop-dead date but that without a settlement in the coming weeks concerts could be canceled.

Last week’s e-mail from management said, “We need to be done by April 1 to preserve summer work for the orchestra.” In a letter sent last week to board members, management also alluded to April 1 as a deadline for summer scheduling and said that musicians’ summer income would be lost without work.

So the venues haven’t set a drop-dead date but management has?

This strike has gone way beyond the line on the map that reads “here be dragons.” So it would be foolhardy at this point to speculate on what’s really going on, or what the outcome might be, or how the parties are going to ever work together productively again – I suspect that no one in Detroit knows either. But it’s hard to read the history of the past year and conclude that management was ever negotiating in good faith in any meaningful sense.

(Upon waking up in the middle of the night and re-reading this post, I was struck both by how clumsily it was written and by how angry I’ve become about Detroit. The situation reminds me of our 1993-94 labor dispute, which was arguably the most miserable 18 months of my life, due mostly to the take-no-prisoners attitude of our management and board. Doesn’t anyone in authority in Detroit realize that the musicians have already agreed to massive cuts? Where’s any inkling that those cuts are painful enough without continued management intransigence on issues such as media and the additional week in year 3?

The smartest negotiator I know once advised me to leave a little bit on the table at every negotiation. DSO management and board seem intent on taking the table with them.)

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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