(UPDATED 10:15am CT – AFM PLACES LO ON UNFAIR LIST) The 8/15/2011 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal published an article by Elizabeth Kramer which reports that the judge overseeing the Louisville Orchestra’s (LO) bankruptcy approved the organization’s latest reorganization plan. According to the article, the judge approved the plan, in part, with the belief that it “would give the orchestra and its musicians an opportunity to focus on contract talks.”
[sws_pullquote_right]Sure, the court’s approval is a step forward but the brinkmanship it seems to have inspired is two steps back. [/sws_pullquote_right] That could certainly happen but if the decision was influenced by the belief that having an approved plan, which the musicians and their union representatives objected to, would foster a better bargaining environment and therefore help both sides reach a settlement, then everyone might be in for an unwelcome surprise.
In short, it’s difficult to imagine that the LO won’t use the financial parameters included in the now approved reorganization plan as a basis for a zero sum based bargaining strategy, which is what the musicians have been vehemently pushing back against since the disagreement erupted.
Moreover, the Courier-Journal article provides a few additional clues as to why this might not work out as some are hoping.
- The article reports that even though the orchestra’s CEO, Robert Birman, indicated the organization pledges to “negotiate toward a contract with the American Federation of Musicians” it reserves the option of pursuing options that would employ musicians under a non-union work agreement. Anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of this business knows that even hinting at union busting bargaining tactics is only asking for trouble (and lots of it). So regardless of opinions on the merits of unionization, that’s the reality of the situation on the ground.
- The article also makes note that the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), which represents the musicians, have staked out the position that the orchestra still owes $3 million in penalties for withdrawing from the AFM’s pension fund. This can become a paramount issue when you look at the AFM’s position on pension liabilities vis-a-vis the Philadelphia Orchestra’s bankruptcy filing. In that case, the AFM has made it clear that they intend to potentially recover penalties and other related fees by a number of methods including the orchestra’s endowment and possible holding individual board members liable.
Consequently, the one step forward, two steps back outlook on Louisville becomes clearer. The brinkmanship is as strong as ever and the court’s ruling appears to have only galvanized already entrenched positions. In an ideal world, this will serve as inspiration to all parties involved to rise above their existing positions because one thing that is certain in all of this is the approval of a reorganization plan is not ubiquitous with actual recovery.
AFM Places Louisville Orchestra on Unfair List
The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) has placed the Louisville Orchestra on its “Unfair List,” following the orchestra’s emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy without a collective bargaining agreement. At an August 15 court hearing, Judge David Stosberg approved the orchestra’s reorganization plan, effectively bringing it out of bankruptcy. The AFM had opposed the plan, citing the fact that it is not viable without employed musicians.
Louisville Orchestra musicians had rejected management’s last contract offer, which was presented as an ultimatum. The offer would have employed some musicians for 30 weeks per year, while employing others for only 10 or 20 weeks per year. Since proposing the tiered arrangement, management has been unwilling to negotiate.
Following the August 15 hearing, Louisville Orchestra Executive Director Robert Birman stated that the orchestra would work toward a contract with its current musicians, who are AFM members, but that it may also pursue agreements with non-AFM musicians.
“The Louisville Orchestra’s management is mistaken to believe that a pick-up ensemble would be a satisfactory replacement for the world-class symphony orchestra that patrons have come to expect in Louisville,” says AFM President Ray Hair. “The AFM will continue to fight on behalf of its members to keep the orchestra intact and to secure a fair contract.”
AFM members who render musical services for employers placed on the “Unfair List” are subject to penalty under AFM bylaws.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 22, 2011