Friday, April 26, 2013

Locked Out: Month Seven

As we approach month seven of the Minnesota Orchestral Association's lockout of the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, I believe that the community has begun to finally see what the MOA is actually doing.  I could be wrong.  But the MOA in their communications to donors and patrons have begun to sound frustrated and maybe even...desperate.  I've heard several times that the MOA Board of Directors is hurt and cannot understand why voices in the community vilify them.  I'd like to take just one example of their behavior to maybe illustrate the reason why they have been vilified.

MOA President Michael Henson (source:
According to their communications, the MOA has always been ready and willing to negotiate with the musicians.  All they needed was a counter-proposal from the musicians to get the talks going.  The MOA had given the musicians a proposed agreement (the "redline" agreement) and indicated that it was their "final" proposal.  If it's their final proposal, what's there to talk about?  They have just told the musicians, OK, we can talk, but we will not accept anything other than our final proposal.  Now, it just so happens that neither side needs a counter-proposal to return to the negotiating table.  To say one is needed is a load of crap and a delaying tactic.  There's a proposal on the table -- the redline agreement -- that they can discuss.  Oh, but wait a minute.  The MOA called it "final."

The musicians, god love 'em, made proposals anyway.  They proposed that they "play and talk."  The MOA rejected that as too expensive for the organization.  The musicians proposed binding arbitration.  The MOA rejected that.  The musicians requested and proposed a joint independent financial analysis of the MOA to learn if their finances are in order, that their projections for the future are reasonable, how they compare to other major orchestras of comparable budget, how the board rates in their competence, the viability of fundraising, and of artistic plans.  The MOA pushed this away, claiming that it was a typical union stalling tactic, calling it a "frolic and detour," and that they do an independent audit each year that's made public.  They also claimed to have given the musicians all the financial information that they'd requested (except they had not, not really).

And that's the way the situation stood until mid-December when it became public that the Minnesota State Legislature had become interested in the economic impact of the lockout as well as how the MOA had used public funds given to it by the State.  The MOA invited the musicians back to the table in early January.  But this did not stop State Legislators from holding public hearings about the lock-outs (both MOA and the SPCO) and to investigate the use of public funds by the MOA, and finally to request the Legislative Auditor take a look at MOA's books.

At the January meeting, MOA and the musicians agreed to go forward with a joint independent financial analysis (among other things which have not been achieved).  For awhile, it looked like they would finally be working together and moving forward with the financial analysis.  But then, they couldn't agree on who would do the analysis.  Maybe they could have two firms working in tandem.  Then, the MOA decided that they didn't want everything included in an analysis to be done, specifically comparisons to other orchestras, the Board's competency, the executive management's competency, the viability of fundraising, and of artistic initiatives, and anything else that involved how the Board conducts business.  This surprised me a bit.  After all, it's not as if they haven't known for months what was included in a financial analysis.  Why object now?  But as a result of the MOA's objection and pulling out from a joint financial analysis, the musicians will continue with theirs, giving the MOA an opportunity to reject the analysis because they didn't agree to what would be included or to the musicians' accounting firm.  It sounds to me like the MOA just wanted someone else to do another audit, which they really don't need because the Legislative Auditor with the State will be doing that.

Now, please keep in mind that according to the MOA, all of their actions are and effort to do everything possible to move negotiations forward.  How's that?  But that's what they have said repeatedly to the public, to donors and patrons.

When someone says he'll do something then doesn't do it, he's untrustworthy.  Someone who consistently does what he says he'll do is trustworthy.  The MOA has shown itself to be untrustworthy.  Why would anyone want to negotiate with an organization's management when they have demonstrated that they will say whatever they think you want to hear but not do anything they say they'll do?  This is the situation the musicians find themselves in at the moment.

The MOA's untrustworthiness is but one reason they are being vilified.  I personally would like an accounting of how many people on the Board genuinely have a passion for classical music and attend as many classical music concerts as they can.  Then I would like to know how many bought their seats on the MOA Board in order to spiff up their resumes under the section on community service.  Then I would like to know if they don't love classical music, what do they love?  Any art form?  Or just money and prestige.....

For more detailed information on this labor contract dispute, check out the following websites:
The Minnesota Orchestra -- for the MOA's official statements
Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra -- for the Musicians' updates
Song of the Lark -- an excellent resource
Adaptistration -- Drew McManus has a keen eye for arts administration


Randall Davidson said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I believe you make clear your mistrust of the MO's management and board. I am missing, from your commentary, an assessment or any suggestion for how negotiations might move forward. This is where our public discourse has stalled (along with the talks).
Please understand that I am not being critical of your essay. I find myself in much the same place. What I find interesting is that the public discourse has devolved into which side one feels an affinity: management or musicians.
I find no affinity with either side. The musicians' suggestion that management/board have cynical fiscal motivations has evidence to support the argument. The management/board's observation of the musicians' frittering is accurate: no auditor will do an assessment of artistic planning, board members' general competence, etc.
So it continues. There is no progress. The audience narrows. Donors become impatient and resentful of both sides. The small becomes microscopic. This is not cultural. This is not financial.

It is just plain ugly.

Gina said...

Thanks for your comment, Randall. While public discourse may have stalled, as you say, I would disagree that neither side has put forward suggestions for getting back to the negotiating table. They have. My point in this post was to show that the musicians have been ready, were happy about the MOA agreeing to the independent financial ANALYSIS, not audit, (there's a difference), and how the MOA went back on that agreement. That behavior does not make them trustworthy partners in negotiations.

I agree with you that this mess is "just plain ugly," but that doesn't really help, either, does it? I have found the musicians to have far more clarity and honesty in their communications than the MOA, and that's another issue I'm trying to highlight.

My suggestion to get back to the table? BOTH sides need to agree to total public silence until AFTER they've reached an agreement the musicians can vote on. Public discourse is to distracting and hurts both sides. BOTH sides need to agree to sit down with the redline agreement and start on page one and start talking about why the MOA put something in or took something out, and what the musicians think and why. BOTH sides need to remove their barriers: the MOA needs to drop its demand for a counter-proposal, and the musicians need to drop their demand for "play and talk."

How's that for a start? Will it happen? I doubt it. My cynicism comes from the MOA retaining a legal counsel known for its expertise in union busting, and if that is truly the MOA's desired end result to all this, they have no interest in negotiations until the union agrees to what the MOA wants, lock, stock and barrel. That's not gonna happen anytime soon.

I do disagree that "this is not cultural...This is not financial." Of course it is. Cultural in the sense of how Americans view the arts, classical music specifically, and how Americans view unions. It's cultural in that American management has come to resent unions and don't want to deal with them anymore. American management wants to control their employees, and insure a profitable bottom line, which of course, doesn't really fit the non-profit arts world but the MOA seems to think it can. So it's financial because management is focused on money, not quality of product. They want to be able to sell quantity over quality, with a constant stream of sales that will feed the bottom line and their salaries and stock price. The MOA has a Board of Directors that live and work in Corporate America not non-profit arts America. I agree with those who say that the arts need to develop a new business model, but I'm also not seeing the MOA dealing with that.