And not a lot of truth from employers in the Land of the North Star either, it seems:
Musicians for the Minnesota Orchestra say management is threatening to lock them out at midnight Sunday unless there is a contract agreement by then.
Orchestra musicians say they will vote on a management contract proposal on Saturday.
Notification of a possible lockout was given in a cover letter musicians say they received with a final contract offer Tuesday. The letter says unless there is an agreement by midnight Sunday, when the current contract runs out, management will consider musicians locked out. Orchestra management has not commented on the letter, except to confirm that is was sent and that the lockout language is part of a legal requirement. Management will make decisions based on developments over the weekend.
For five months a contract proposal has been before the musicians, who have yet to formally respond. The musicians said they have insufficient information about the orchestra’s finances.
The “lockout language is part of a legal requirement”? Perhaps they’ve decided to offshore their labor law. Managements can certainly lock out employees under certain conditions, but they don’t have to, and they don’t have to say anything about doing so as part of a “last, best, and final” offer.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Mississippi River, the board chair and acting CEO of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra distorted a different reality:
At the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which also has a labor contract that expires Sunday, the two sides have passed proposals back and forth this week. Meetings are planned for Saturday and Sunday.
The St. Paul musicians oppose a management proposal to fund a retirement incentive for older players and a lower salary for new musicians. “We think they have the money but they are not spending the money correctly,” bassoonist Carole Mason Smith said in an interview on Thursday.
Chairman Dobson West, in a memo rejecting the latest union proposal, wrote that musicians’ minimum annual salaries have increased by 12.5 percent from July 2008.
It would have been more honest of him to admit that, as part of that “increase,” the musicians agreed to re-open the agreement and accept a one-year cut of 12% for the 2009-10 season.
Negotiations have come to resemble political campaigns more and more, and in the worst possible way - as Bill Clinton was reputed to have once said, the Commandment most violated in politics was the one about bearing false witness. The problem with such violations in the context of a labor negotiation is that those who lie and those who are lied to (or against), have to try to work together after the negotiation is over - and all negotiations end at some point.
This is a lesson that musicians need to heed as well, of course; I’ve seen a fair amount of spin put on facts by musicians that certainly verged on outright falsehood. But in a workplace where the unionized employees stick around far longer than anyone else, the memories of being lied to, or lied about, tend to be more damaging when held by those musicians.
And yes, it is conventional wisdom that music directors are supposed to avoid public statements about labor negotiations, but couldn’t Vänskä do a little better than this?
Also Thursday, music director Osmo Vänskä released a statement that said it is not his role to be involved in negotiations. “These are difficult times, but I believe our Board and our musicians will find the right solution to take good care of this great orchestra,” said Vänskä, who has declined interview requests.
Given that the Board’s economic proposal hasn’t changed for five months, his belief in their willingness to “find the right solution” is touching. Given the massive cut they’re demanding, that faith does not appear to be justified.
I think I prefer the approach that Edo de Waart, an “Artistic Partner” at the SPCO, (and our music director in Milwaukee) took:
Q Are you following the contract issues at SPCO?
A If you ask me this question in two weeks, I would say yes. Since I’m only a partner, I do not inject myself into it. My point of view is this: If a country with 350 million people that prides itself as one of the greatest countries that ever was can’t sustain a 35-piece full-time chamber orchestra, the only one in that country, that’s really shameful. I’m not blaming anybody, but there should be a way that can exist. This is a jewel. It’s a beautiful little orchestra. It cannot, in my view, it should not be made smaller and it needs to keep its competitive edge by attracting the best players by paying a decent salary.
That gives a new meaning to the phrase “Dutch courage,” doesn’t it? And speaking of new meanings, it may be time to re-define “solidarity”:
A lockout prevents employees from reporting to work or receiving pay. Musicians may still picket in the case of a lockout. However, Orchestra Hall is undergoing renovation and will not be used for concerts when the season begins Oct. 18 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Dan McConnell, business manager of the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, said workers on the $52 million project are governed by an agreement that prevents them from joining a work stoppage. “We’re certainly sensitive to the musicians, but it would be a violation of our contract if we were to walk out,” McConnell said.
And Samuel Gompers stirs uneasily in his grave, wondering why the labor movement blames all its troubles on politicians.