The rest of the ugly

Although the guts of the Minnesota proposal (and the damage done by it) lie in the economics, there is plenty of other stuff not to like as well. In particular, there are loads of changes proposed to work rules; far more than one would expect in a normal negotiation, much less one in which the musicians are being asked to step back thirty years in terms of real compensation. If management really needs those economic concessions, a good indication of their seriousness about it would have been to leave everything else alone; that’s just about the first rule of Negotiating Labor Agreements for Dummies.

So it’s not surprising that many of their non-economic proposals exude a certain “screw you” feel. A good example is the proposed change to Section 14.4, which covers bus runouts.

The existing language limits runouts to “locations no more than 100 miles from Minneapolis.” But the language goes on at length to permit one runout each year in places up to 130 miles away, and allows more during non-winter months with the approval of the Orchestra Committee. (Runouts during winter months are already governed by a “best efforts to avoid” clause, which management does not propose to change.)

The management proposal changes this paragraph to simply read “locations no more than 130 miles away.” Committee approval, travel pay for over 100 miles, and a day off after long runouts are simply eliminated.

Now it’s certainly possible that there exist pots of runout gold between 100 and 130 distant from Minneapolis that can’t be mined without allowing management to schedule more than one such runout. But why eliminate nominal travel pay, or a day off after a really punishing trip, or (most of all) committee approval? Has the committee truly been recalcitrant about allowing management to earn income? Or is this simply management putting the musicians in their place and reminding them of who really runs things?

Another more substantive example of this tone has to do with management’s nod to  the “community engagement” meme (which is a concept, by the way, I strongly support.) In Section 2.13, the management proposal adds the following language:

In any 42-week season, the Orchestra may assign Musicians up to 4 weeks of work (which may be scheduled at various times during the season) to be comprised of non-traditional orchestra services dedicated to Chamber Music and/or Community Outreach. For Chamber Music, one performance and its rehearsals(s) shall be considered three services: two performances and their rehearsal(s) shall be considered four services. For Community Outreach, a Presentation or Performance of 1 hour or less shall be considered two services: a Presentation or performances in excess of 1 hour shall be considered three services.

In addition, management proposes to strike all of Section 8.7 (Small Ensembles) and 8.8 (Chamber Music). These are sections with lots of history, lots of safeguards, and lots of wisdom about how to put together small groups and chamber ensembles in such as way that they actually work. The core of that wisdom, by the way, is that musicians want to do the work and want to work with the other people in the small group.

Instead, management apparently thinks that the way to do community engagement (which, of course, is intended to get lots more people exposed to great music and engaged performers) is to draft people, throw them together with other drafted musicians of management’s choosing, and send them out to do… what?

One particularly interesting clause in 8.7 struck by management’s proposal reads

The Employer agrees not to undertake commercial venture, which normally employ jobbing Musicians (ie, hotels, cafes, etc.). This provision will not be used by Union or Musicians to restrict the Orchestra’s participating in events sponsored by the Association as either the sponsor or co-sponsor, for which the Association bears full or partial financial responsibility.

Does management really intend to send its musicians out to play for hotels and weddings? A dumb proposal on many levels. First of all, given the additional staff time involved, it won’t pay off. Secondly, and more important, an orchestra as geographically isolated as the Minnesota Orchestra (that also does not plan on paying enough full-time musicians to play all the standard repertoire at a high level) cannot afford to be without a competent pool of subs and extras who can sustain themselves by freelancing. Having the orchestra go into competition with those people is going to make those musicians’ lives even more precarious than management’s proposal to cut sub pay by roughly half already does.

There is, of course, much more in management’s proposal, and no doubt I’m missing some interesting and stuff (the attempt to treat the librarians more like staff and less like musicians without formally taking them out of the bargaining unit is quite interesting, for example). But the general tone is one of seeking “flexibility” on the general grounds of “I don’ got to show you no steenkin’ BADGE!”

One musician pointed out to me that management couldn’t manage to find anything for the orchestra to do for the entire month of September 2012, and wondered why management seemed so fixated on “flexibility” if they couldn’t use whole tranches of existing unused services. That would indeed suggest that most of the proposed changes to work rules are really about management thinking they should have near-absolute control over scheduling without any pesky “union restrictions.”

One correction to the previous post: I am informed that, in the words of a person close to the situation:

…our original agreement had our pay rising to $2308 on April 1 of 2012- the entire final year of the contract , with the 2 largest increases , was given back in the 2010 re-opener.  Our pay at the end of September was $2177.  That shows the huge concession in wages we’ve already made.

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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