The inaugural article for our ongoing examination of the Minnesota Orchestra Redline Agreement (MORA) will focus on proposed changes to the “home service area” definition and related contractual provisions for runouts. Given the increased attention throughout the field for augmenting outreach activity, i.e. events outside of the primary venue, it should come as no surprise that this agreement proposes numerous changes to how the organization implements those endeavors.
What I hope to accomplish with this series is to provide a broader and more thorough understanding of the dynamic issues that go into a labor dispute. In the end, it’s much more than just compensation, benefits, musician compliment, and season length.
We’ll try to understand why clauses exist in the first place and what each side perceives as beneficial or injurious by modifying, eliminating, or leaving it untouched. Likewise, we’ll step outside of the world of sound bites, spin, and emotionally charged rhetoric by embracing a practical, evenhanded examination of the specific contractual language at core of this dispute.
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- Avoid universal application. Perhaps one of the most important bear traps to avoid throughout this process is to assume that these issues are universally applicable to all orchestras; simply put, they aren’t. Just because the Minnesota Orchestra does something, doesn’t mean the same should hold true somewhere such Omaha and vice versa.
Understand the acronyms.
- MOA = Minnesota Orchestra Association (the board and/or executive management)
- MMO = Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra
- MORA = Minnesota Orchestra Redline Agreement (the version submitted to musicians as their last official offer and subsequently voted down on 9/29/12)
- CBA = Collective Bargaining Agreement (also known as “the contract,” “master agreement,” or simply “agreement”).
- First hand clarification. When possible, additional insight, justification, and rationale behind why changes have been presented and/or why changes are opposed will be provided by official MOA and MMO spokespersons. If such information is provided after an article is published, it will be included as an article update.
- Irreproachable comments. Comments are always welcome but readers are encouraged resist the temptation to submit a comment when upset. If you aren’t already familiar with Adaptistration’s comment policy, please take a moment to review (via the “Blog Policy” tab).
- Interconnectivity. Although we will be examining groups of related terms in each installment, it is important to remember that very few of these issues exist in an institutional vacuum; meaning, just because correlations aren’t made between one or more contractual items doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It is recommended that following each installment, readers think back to previous posts and attempt to identify any potential connections.
What Is a Redline Contract?
Simply put, a redline contract (sometimes called markup or strikeout) is a version of proposed modifications that show:
- The original language.
- Modifications in the form of strikeout and bold formatting; the former being a removal with the later an addition or modification.
Depending on where the revision process is, redline contracts come in varying degrees of detail but it is normal for final versions to include every possible change, right down to modified section and subsection numbering. The MOA redline agreement used for these purposes is an example of the latter.
Ignoring The Inconsequential Stuff
In order to establish clear parameters, let me be clear that we will be skipping over housekeeping markups, such as changes to article numbers, dates, and all of the bits and pieces that need to change.
Article II Definitions & Article XIV Runouts
This language exists in order to delineate when the employer is obliged to follow typical on the job standards and conditions (i.e. work rules) at locations within a prescribed radius and when it must institute additional measures and/or adhere to modified work rules. The bulk of “home service” activity occurs in the primary concert venue; common types of services outside this distinct area include runouts and tours, which are defined respectively in Section 2.12 and Section 2.15.
However, increased interest in outreach activity is spurring changes to traditional home service area definitions. Typically, employers have been seeking broader definitions while musicians express concern over dynamic consequences and diminished return on investment.
In this instance, the MOA is seeking to double the home service area radius in addition to expanding the maximum distance for runouts to include a host of cities as far away as Northern Iowa and the south-western tip of Lake Superior.
Services beyond the proposed 130 mile radius will be defined as tours and are therefore subject to conditions under those provisions. We’ll be examining those proposed changes in a subsequent article.
Doubling the home service radius from 25 to 50 miles would clearly provide reduced operational expenses for increased activity outside of the home venue. For services outside the home radius the employer is obliged to provide bus transportation, meals, and day rooms during instances with large gaps between services along with providing minimum periods of rest before the end of the final runout service and the next scheduled service.
The larger home service area affords the MOA with opportunities to increase artistic activity…without incurring much, if any, additional costs.
The increased runout radius seems to target a few key communities including, but not limited to, Mason City, IA to the south; La Crosse, WI to the east; and Duluth-Superior, MN to the north. The potential here is in the form of tapping into communities that have smaller budget professional orchestras and therefore, an established interest in live classical music concert activity.
Eliminating travel pay and limits on numbers of runout events (Section 14.4 and 14.5), doing away with securing committee approval before runouts over 100 miles can be scheduled (section 14.4), and removing required days off following extended distance runouts and two-for-one service credits against maximum numbers of services per week (Section 14.4 and 14.5) allow the employer to schedule related concert activity without restrictions and at lower direct and indirect costs.
From an employee’s perspective, reduced cost doesn’t necessarily mean reduced price.
Establishing a home service radius that maximizes artistic quality and workplace satisfaction is determined by a sustainable balance involving travel time, quality of performance environment, and recuperation between services. An acceptable home service area is a key component in maximizing artistic quality and defining a satisfactory radius is typically the byproduct of trial and error over several decades.
The proposed changes to runout work rules potentially shift the overall price from one stakeholder to the other. For musicians, the costs can be literal as in the elimination of travel pay but the lion’s share are absorbed in increased fatigue and decreased time for personal practice and development.
Employer and employee positions here are comparatively self evident; the MOA does not believe it is unreasonable to expect musicians should travel longer distances for home area activity at their own expense as well as runout services with fewer restrictions and without consideration to time between multiple services. Conversely, the MMO likely believe the existing terms promote a sustainable balance that optimizes artistic quality and workplace satisfaction.
Now, before jumping to conclusions or searching for some sort of compromise position, it would be useful if data existed to help determine a prescribed course of action.
To that end, the MOA would need to conduct market research into expanding service activity vis-a-vis the extended 50 mile home service area radius as well as the increased maximum runout distance. In order to determine the overall impact on annual income/expense, it is a comparatively simple matter to then juxtapose costs associated with those events under the existing and proposed contract terms.
This sort of research typically includes determining not only market potential but whether or not that activity might inadvertently produce a detrimental impact on ticket sales at the primary venue and whether increased marketing expenses related with developing a remote audience base produces a worthwhile return on investment while avoiding a long term drop in marketing performance (i.e. how much it costs to sell a ticket).
Directly related to the quantitative analysis are the host of dynamic concerns associated with the artistic product; which is simply antiseptic phrasing for how much negative impact this has on musicians and overall music making. This is the heart of where most conflict occurs whenever orchestra associations and musicians disagree about the impact work rules changes have on artistic excellence.
For example, as an orchestra grows and begins to pay a living wage musicians anticipate traveling less, as compared to a “Freeway Philharmonic” based livelihood, and reduced commuting will facilitate increased personal practice time and reduce fatigue. When optimized, the employer benefits from a higher artist return on investment for musician expenses.
Finding the right balance is an ongoing process and moving too far in any direction or introducing substantial deviations can produce unanticipated consequences.
During the bargaining process, both parties should be able to provide quantifiable evidence to support modifying or maintaining current terms. In order to reach an informed agreement, useful tools in this process include the aforementioned market research reports, fatigue related grievance records plus productivity reports (sick days, etc.), critical reviews, music director assessments, regular workplace satisfaction studies, etc.
In addition to this material, both sides will apply varying degrees of notional perspective in order to convince the other of an optimum course of action. Moreover, placing relative value on groups of terms within the larger bargaining environment and a willingness to identify final terms that support a mutually agreeable unified institutional vision is a healthy approach to avoiding, or ending, conflict.
Ultimately, this initial peek inside the much larger proposal will prove to be a useful foray into helping develop a practical outlook on the dispute.