Monday, September 27, 2010

Detroit Symphony update: Strike ahead

By Barry Johnson

Negotiations in the the Detroit Symphony labor dispute collapsed over the weekend, as management dug into its "last best offer" position and the musicians refused to submit. Drew McManus's Adaptistration blog has the goods.  Management is also playing hardball on insurance -- health, dental, vision, musical instrument.  The musicians offered to pay 100 percent of the premiums while the strike continued, but management decided to cancel the policies anyway.

As you may have gathered from my previous posts, I am sympathetic to two general ideas the symphony management is advancing: an arts organization must live within its means and sometimes those means change; creative reinvention is crucial to the health, artistic and financial, of all arts organizations.  At the same time, I think that all members of the symphony's community, the musicians centrally,  should have a voice in that creative reinvention.

At this point, symphony management is playing the bully with its violists, oboists, cellists and the great music they play, and it is failing miserably to engage the musicians in a common and ongoing discussion about the future of the symphony.  The game with the insurance just underscores that, but maybe the citizens of Detroit honor that tactic.

I continue to follow this particular case because I've observed the same forces and conditions at work in lots of other organizations -- arts groups and for-profit corporations alike. And the power play at work by management, if it succeeds, has wide ramifications throughout American orchestras and other arts groups. The strike doesn't officially begin until the first scheduled concert is missed -- Oct. 7.

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