More on Dallas

One of the things that mystified me about the Dallas situation was the involvement of the NLRB; generally disputes between the union and management over contract administration are handled through the grievance arbitration process. Not this one, apparently:

The union intervened after a January incident in which DSO management suspended without pay an associate principal horn player. [Union president Ken] Krause says that after the National Labor Relations Board vowed to investigate, the DSO reinstated the player and made up the two months’ missed pay.

“Not only was the punishment unprecedented in the history of the [Dallas Symphony Association], but the union has maintained from the beginning that the penalty imposed was unjustified and outside the parameters established by its collective bargaining agreement with the symphony,” according to the union newsletter, The Dallas Fort Worth Musician.

“We reached an agreement with them, and I’m satisfied with the outcome,” Krause says, noting that the NLRB was in the middle of launching an investigation. “They had not yet rendered a judgment when we reached a settlement, for which we are pleased.”

He added: “We’re trying to work things out. We don’t want to fight.”

Even so, Krause says, musicians have complained about being accosted in divisive meetings, with van Zweden using one emotion above all others to motivate them — fear.

“I’m having musicians tell me all the time that they don’t look forward to going to work anymore, like they used to,” Krause says…

The confrontation between recently hired principal horn David Cooper and associate principal horn player David Heyde led to DSO management suspending Heyde without pay for two months. Heyde filed a grievance with the union. Details of the conflict and names of those involved were published in the NLRB report, which is public record. Cooper could not be reached for comment; Heyde declined to comment.

The conductor says the suspension came about because Heyde and Cooper “were having a huge clash. If you have a team, and two players are warring with each other, you have a problem.”

The union “did not agree with some of the steps we had taken in this individual matter,” Martin says. “The issue has been amicably resolved by all parties involved.”

I called someone on the ground in Dallas to find out what happened. Here’s what I was told.

The orchestra was  in the middle of a subscription week during which Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn was programmed. At some point, the associate principal horn was called in due to another horn player’s illness, and a section rehearsal was scheduled before the concert. The associate principal asked if the music director would be there, and was told he wouldn’t be. But, when the musician got there, the music director was indeed present, at which point the associate principal had some angry words with the principal. That was what van Zweden described as “a huge clash… warring with each other.”

Although the associate principal tried to apologize, management suspended him without pay anyway. The union grieved that action as not permitted by the collective bargaining agreement and tried to resolve the dispute without invoking arbitration – both of which were entirely normal and predictable actions by the union.

After management refused to settle, and the union requested arbitration (also a normal and predictable course of action by the union), management suspended the associate without pay for even more weeks above and beyond the original suspension. The union, quite reasonably suspecting that the new suspension was reprisal for invoking arbitration, then filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. (Retaliating against an employee, unionized or not, for exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act is definitely an unfair labor practice.)

The NLRB sent out an investigator. Between the time the investigator interviewed the parties and the NLRB issued a ruling, management offered to settle the grievance with the union by reinstating the associate principal and making him whole economically by paying him for the weeks he was suspended if the union would withdraw the ULP, which offer the union accepted (and which was likely the original union offer anyway). Case closed.

One really has to wonder why management thought they could get away with the additional suspension. Any competent management-side labor lawyer would have told them that such a move would look like reprisal to both the union and the NLRB. Maybe they figured that getting caught wouldn’t have any consequences beyond having to make the musician whole, or maybe the music director was leaning on them to punish the guy further, or perhaps a board member got involved (which, as the folks in Nashville can testify, can get messy very fast). Maybe they thought that being that “tough” would send a message to musicians about the risks of misbehavior. the Or maybe management simply didn’t check with their lawyer. In any case, adding to the original suspension after the union requested arbitration was dumb.

The most telling aspect of this case, though, might be that the musician in question was so concerned about the possibility of the music director being at a sectional and was then so upset by him actually being there. It certainly lends veracity to Ken Krause’s statement that “I’m having musicians tell me all the time that they don’t look forward to going to work anymore, like they used to.” The line between being demanding of one’s subordinates and being abusive of them really isn’t that fine, and good music directors either know that from the get-go or learn very early where it is. Given van Zweden’s background as an orchestra musician, it’s a little disturbing that many of his musicians seem not to believe he’s aware the line even exists.

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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