Where Things Stand In Detroit

As last ditch, multi-mediator facilitated bargaining sessions between the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and their musicians failed to produce a settlement over the weekend, the organization crossed the first major benchmark in contentious labor disputes. In this case, DSO management decided to abandon play and talk bargaining in favor of implementing their last, best, and final offer and in response, the musicians announced they are going on strike starting Monday, October 4, 2010…

There are numerous articles in mainstream newspapers covering the details of this weekend’s bargaining sessions (Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, and Associated Press) but according to press statements from the DSO and its musicians, here’s where things stand:

  • Musicians claim that management is unwilling to bargain in good faith even though they maintain they are willing to agree to concessions beyond their current offer, but only if management follows suit.
  • Management claims that they are willing to reconsider terms but only within a zero sum context of their current offer.
  • Musicians filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claiming the zero sum tactic is tantamount to failing to bargain in good faith. Management responded by claiming that is merely a sign that both sides have reached good faith impasse.
  • Musicians claim that management has informed them that their medical, dental, vision, life, long term disability, and instrument insurances will be cancelled even though the musicians have said they are willing to pay 100% of the premiums out of pocket until the conflict is resolved. There is no public response from management on this point.
  • Musicians claim that management is threatening them legal action if they publicize self produced benefit concerts and “telling their side of the story” at their website.
  • Management has confirmed that they are implementing the terms of their last, best, final offer in advance of their opening classical series concert on October 8, 2010.

So far, with the exception of management implementing their last, best, and final offer in lieu of locking out the musicians, this labor disagreement has followed a very traditional path. However, if musician claims regarding cancelled insurances are accurate (the DSO has yet to respond to requests for confirmation and/or additional details), that stage is arriving much earlier than usual and could be a signal that the disagreement will deteriorate much quicker than usual.

Currently, all signs indicate that neither side is going to give in quickly as was the case in Cleveland when that orchestra’s management moved from their last, best, and final offer to the point of settlement one day following a musician strike. If the DSO is indeed planning to cancel all insurances and go to the effort to take legal action against the musicians for engaging in promotion of self produced concerts, then that’s another strong indication that the work stoppage will become a conflict of attrition.

To date and when compared to previous conflicts over the past decade at other large budget orchestras, the DSO has been particularly short on details and has not been as aggressive in promoting their position. On the musicians’ side, they have approached the situation in typical fashion, using traditional talking points and coming out of the gate with a great deal of enthusiastic solidarity.

At the same time, musician resolve and solidarity are typically key factors in the outcome of extraordinarily contentious labor disagreements. And in the case of the DSO vs. their musicians, it isn’t the least bit unusual to think that the work stoppage could last months or even the entire season without resolve provided the musicians are unsuccessful with their NLRB complaints or can no longer literally afford to remain on strike.

We’ll examine some more benchmarks and likely outcomes associated with work stoppages of this magnitude when/if the strike begins on October 4, 2010.

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4 Responses to Where Things Stand In Detroit

  1. violyincello Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    I believe that a settlement will be made on Oct. 5. Why? Both sides have too much to lose. Certainly management can reach for the middle ground and throw in a new CEO to sweeten the deal.

  2. DSO Subscriber Wed, Oct 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm #

    How palatable would a base salary scale along the lines of Atlanta, Houston, and St. Louis–mid 70’s to low 80’s from now thourgh 2013ish be?

    It’s not as generous as the musician’s proposal nor as draconian as the management’s propsal.

    • Drew McManus Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at 9:40 am #

      I certain;y don’t speak on behalf of the musicians and I don’t know how they would reply to that question. But I would say that at this point in the dispute, base pay levels in and of themselves are no longer a mutually exclusive deal breaker.

      The sweeping changes in work rules, musician job descriptions, and stakeholder input are much too large to ignore and would easily impact the artistic output and standing of the organization as much as base pay levels.


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