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Time to go short?

0 Robert Levine

When I first came into the business, the conventional wisdom (as expressed by Len Leibowitz at many ICSOM conferences) was that it was in musicians’ interests to propose one-year agreements and let management pay for the privilege of several years of labor peace and not having to deal with negotiating committees.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen that actually tried at the table. Musicians invariably ask for multi-year agreements, especially in concessionary situations - where the goal is to get “recovery” in the out years. This leads to contracts that are back-loaded, sometimes quite shockingly so. (This settlement in Pittsburgh was perhaps the Mother of all Back-loaded Contracts.)

Managements, on the other hand, seem increasingly less attracted by the offer of “labor peace,” which is not surprising in an environment, both short-term and long-term, in which the prospects for orchestras do not appear as sunny as they did 40 years ago. I was re-reading an issue of Senza Sordino from the 1970s, and the list of orchestras on strike was startlingly long. Today, even given the number of orchestras being asked for concessions, the number of orchestras on strike remains at one.

At our last negotiation, our management was extremely unimpressed with the value of “labor peace.” They offered us a one-year contract. We had to negotiate long and hard to get a multi-year agreement, with full recovery delayed to year 4. And our agreement contained, if not a formal re-opener, an agreement that we would talk to them about remedies that might be achieved through collective bargaining should the condition of the orchestra warrant.

We have not been formally asked to re-open. But no one here is taking bets on the prospect of such a request not coming.

The current dynamic seems to be that musicians make sacrifices in order to have the security of multi-year agreements, especially when such an agreement incorporates some economic recovery after concessions, only to have that security taken away whenever management feels that the out years are not affordable.

What is the advantage to orchestra musicians of multi-year agreements if they only tie the hands of musicians and not managements?

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