The appointment of Ralph Craviso to mediate the Louisville Orchestra labor dispute has caused some head-scratching in the orchestra industry, a public example of which was Drew McManus’ post of a few days ago:
The only question in my mind upon hearing the news was “What, was Governor Scott Walker busy?”
Word on the street, which was verified via email by LO musician spokesperson Kim Tichenor, is the LO musicians signed off on bringing in Craviso which is perhaps the most puzzling aspect of this scenario.
Craviso has been a controversial figure in our field ever since he entered our field back in the mid-1990s. I’ve never heard a definitive version of how that came about, but it appears that he was trying to set up the management equivalent of the handful of union-side freelance negotiations – people like Phil Sipser, Len Leibowitz, Liza Medina and Susan Martin. For whatever reason, the focus of his activities changed and he has been only intermittently involved with orchestras over the past few years.
There is no question that Craviso is a management-side guy. Does that, by itself, make him an implausible choice to mediate a dispute like Louisville?
I don’t think so. Most labor mediators have a background of being an advocate for either the employer or employee side. Realistically, where else are such people to come from? It’s my understanding that most of the mediators that work for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service have such a background; that’s certainly the case with the ones I’ve worked with.
That’s not to say that Craviso will be an effective mediator in Louisville. That will depend on several factors, including how credible he will prove with both sides. The fact that both sides have accepted him does not, by itself, mean he’s got the necessary credibility to convince both sides to do whatever is required to reach a settlement; that kind of credibility is mostly earned during the process of mediation. And that, in turn, will be determined in large part by the extent to which he really is seen as an honest broker.
My fear for Louisville is not that Craviso will push the management line on the musicians. I think it’s far more likely that the impediment to a settlement mediated by Craviso will be the same impediment that’s prevented progress so far – Louisville Orchestra management’s desire to downsize the orchestra to the level of their own incompetence. It is possible that Craviso, being a management-side guy, will have enough credibility based on his past with the board and management that he can convince them that what they’re proposing is the equivalent of institutional death. But, as I’ve written before, they seem pretty married to their “solution” to the orchestra’s problems.
It took a Cold Warrior like Richard Nixon to go to China. But the folks running China were more flexible than the board and management of the Louisville Orchestra currently appear to be.