Robert Levine  

To IBB or not to IBB? Why musicians so often say "no" to interest-based bargaining

Robert Levine
April 17, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

To IBB or Not To IBB

Interest-based bargaining (IBB), non-confrontational negotiating, mutual-gains bargaining, win-win bargaining - no matter what you call it, symphony musicians disagree vehemently about whether it's a good thing or a bad thing.

Robert Levine has written a thoughtful essay that explores this disagreement about IBB. Robert presents a brief history of the evolution of symphony players' negotiating their own contracts, and then goes on to discuss the pros and cons of adopting non-traditional bargaining techniques.

Whether you believe that IBB can encourage more creative solutions, or believe that IBB results in bad outcomes for musicians, you'll find this essay provocative yet balanced. To continue this discussion, the Orchestra Musicians' Forum has selected Robert's essay as the subject of our first Virtual Panel Discussion, moderated by Drew McManus and beginning on April 17th .

To IBB or Not To IBB first appeared in the July/August 2005 issue of Symphony, the magazine of the American Symphony Orchestra League. Used by permission.

- Ann Drinan


Every decade, it seems, our orchestra industry decides to argue about a different issue.

In the 1960s, musicians and their employers were arguing about whether orchestras should provide full-time employment. In the early 1990s, we were arguing about the Wolf Report 1 and whether its projections about orchestra finances were realistic. In recent years, we have achieved the ultimate post-modern irony: arguing about the mechanism we use to argue.

The publication of Getting to Yes in 19812 was a seminal event in the field of labor relations. As often happens, it took some time for the impact of this milestone to migrate to the orchestra world, but by the mid-1990s many musicians had heard something about a new bargaining technique called “interest-based bargaining” (a.k.a. “mutual-gains bargaining,” “integrative bargaining,” “preventive mediation,” “win-win bargaining,” “facilitated negotiations,” or more generically as non-traditional bargaining). While proponents of non-traditional bargaining differ over details of technique, generally they emphasize several common principles: focusing on underlying interests rather than negotiating positions; careful (or “active”) listening as opposed to aggressive advocacy; and open discussion and brainstorming by all participants rather than the formal exchange and rejection or acceptance of proposals at the bargaining table.

Non-traditional bargaining has become politically incorrect with many musicians who are concerned with labor issues. Mention of IBB at meetings of musicians is invariably greeted with grumbling or even catcalls. When the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the Managers’ Media Committee started the Electronic Media Forum (EMF) in 1999 and began to negotiate what became the Internet Agreement, the union-side members of the EMF felt compelled to deny constantly and vociferously to their constituents that they were engaged in interest-based bargaining precisely because the term was so “loaded”—even though the EMF process was unquestionably not “traditional” bargaining, and in many ways resembled IBB quite closely.

So why has IBB become a dirty word amongst many musicians active in labor issues? Four categories of reasons stand out to this writer: resistance to change; concerns about the effects of IBB on union solidarity; a belief that in practice, IBB is not truly collaborative; and a correlation between IBB and what musicians see as negative outcomes.

« Previous page • Page 1 of 6 • Next Page »


Comments (Click to Hide)

While I can see some benefits to IBB as proposed by Robert, my experience in Milw was that it wouldn't work here. Why? In order for IBB to be successful, it is necessary for the climate to be conducive to it from the years leading up to negotiations. Why would anyone take seriously people who all of a sudden want IBB when they have been confrontational leading up to negotiations?
pv140 on February 23, 2019 at 10:26 PM
Hi Fred.

We've never done formal IBB in Milwaukee, as you know, although we have successfully used mediation on several occasions, which can be a little like IBB at second hand. One of the arguments that proponents use for IBB is that it can actually be used to build trust, and I've seen that happen.

The real problem, as Fred and I have both experienced, is when one tries to negotiate, traditionally or via IBB, with someone who is inherently untrustworthy. That poisons the well for a long time.
bratschewurst on February 24, 2019 at 10:52 AM

Please log in to comment: