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More details on the Detroit negotiations

0 Robert Levine

The AFM put out a press release yesterday (February 20) which contained some interesting details on the most recent negotiations:

Although Senator Carl Levin and Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert had stepped in last week to help broker an agreement, DSO management did not show up at face-to-face meetings with the arbitrators until the third and final day. Then, management waited until Levin and Gilbert had left the meeting to make significant changes to the proposals the two had worked on.

In the end, the musicians’ negotiating committee recommended rejection of management’s latest offer, which included a large increase in employee healthcare deductibles, required employees to cover travel costs for assignments up to 75 miles away, and significantly reduced the DSO commitment to community outreach, among other unreasonable concessions.

Obviously this is the union-side version, and management might have their own. But, assuming it’s accurate (and I make that assumption), it does appear that management has been speaking with forked tongue. But then very little DSO management has done during this saga has made much sense to me, at least if I start from the premise that they want a deal.

I’m coming to believe that may not be the right premise, though.

BBB Charles Noble wrote about the situation here (h/t Drew McManus). He did the great service of including the complete text of both the musicians’ and management’s press releases. They’re worth reading in full.

One of the remaining issues seems to be the status of the principal librarian; management wants to remove that position from the bargaining unit, while the musicians refuse to agree. It’s not an issue that should even be on the table at this point, being a violation of the cardinal rule of Asking for Financial Relief, which is: don’t ask for anything other than financial relief. Having said that, I can certainly imagine circumstances in which some of what the musicians are refusing to agree to might be reasonable concessions.

But I hope the board of the DSO isn’t quite as clueless as this remark from James B. Nicholson, past DSO board chair and chair of the management-side negotiating committee would make them appear to be:

It’s unfortunate the Union bargaining committee is depriving its members of the careers their professional skills have earned.

It really can’t be that no one has told him that the bargaining committee only makes recommendations; the members vote on whether to accept them. Can it?

An optimist would believe that this line from the first paragraph of the management press release continues to offer a tiny, dim ray of hope that all is not lost:

Prospects of rescheduling concerts originally within the season, resuming the 2011 Summer Orchestral Season and announcing a 2011-12 calendar remain possible pending a settlement.

But I suspect it’s not the first tiny, dim ray of a new sunrise but rather a reflection off the fast-approaching bottom of the mineshaft the DSO is plummeting down at terminal velocity.

I will venture a prediction: if this doesn’t get settled soon, all of us with any power or influence in the orchestra industry are going to bitterly regret that we didn’t do everything in our power to get it settled.


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