Friday, July 26, 2013

George Mitchell, Mediator Extraordinaire

During the past week, we've seen some movement in the labor dispute involving the Minnesota Orchestra musicians and MOA management.  They have agreed to work with a mediator.  Rumor has it that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton had a hand in setting this in motion and arranging the mediator.  I kept hearing that it was someone big, and that representatives of the two parties had flown to Washington, D.C. to meet with him.  Finally the announcement: the mediator is George Mitchell.

George Mitchell, 2010: Drew Angerer, NY Times

A former U.S. Senator from Maine and Senate Majority Leader, Mitchell also helped broker the 1998 peace agreement in Northern Ireland among the IRA, N. Ireland's Protestants and the British.  Attaining peace in N. Ireland had appeared impossible for years until Mitchell arrived on the scene.  While the MN Orchestra musicians are not the IRA and MOA management are not the British (except for Michael Henson who is British), the labor dispute between them has been as intractable as the situation in N. Ireland was.  Can Mitchell help the two parties set aside the anger and bad feelings and focus on negotiations?  Can he ease the way for management to open their ears and minds to other ideas and possibilities for resolving their financial issues?

As I have written before, I would like the MOA management to drop their patronizing and condescending attitude toward the musicians and start treating them as equal partners in this mess, a mess engineered, by the way, by MOA management.  They have no right to treat the musicians in such a disrespectful way, labor dispute tactics or no.  The MOA management need to comprehend and accept (and CELEBRATE) that the musicians are not The Problem, or even One of The Problems, but a very, very valuable asset without which the MOA would not have come into existence. They are a classical music non-profit organization first and foremost, and Orchestra Hall is their primary venue for symphony orchestra concerts.

Drew McManus, at his blog Adaptistration, examines the role that money plays in labor disputes, i.e. the war chests each side tries to accumulate before a strike/lockout, and what occurs when the money runs out on one side or the other.  I find this fascinating, especially looking at the management side of things.  After all, management has been crying and wailing that they don't have the money to pay the musicians what they're worth, so how could they have the money in a "war chest" to spend on waging the PR war during the lockout?  And wouldn't that money have been better spent donated to the MOA for musicians' salaries or the endowment?  Hello?

There are a couple ideas out there for community stakeholder involvement in the next two months: 

First, Orchestrate Excellence has organized a community forum to be held the evening of August 20 at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis right next to the unfinished Orchestra Hall on Nicollet Mall.  Alan Fletcher, CEO of the Aspen Music School and Festival, will be the speaker, and attendees are encouraged to come with and express their ideas for the future of the MN Orchestra.  Let's keep this positive, folks!

Second, Emily Hogstead at the Song of the Lark blog, has hatched the idea of picketing events/rentals at Orchestra Hall this fall, beginning with the Symphony Ball in September.  If picketing sounds like fun, contact Emily for more info.

In the meantime, I'll be paying close attention to the developments that occur as a result of the mediator, George Mitchell.....  


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