I’m Not Sure the Orchestra’s Full-Page Ad Helps Their Case

[Note: this is an expanded version of a post I wrote on 5/10/13, when the ad in question first appeared.]

Recently the Orchestra management placed a full-page ad in the Star Tribune to show, apparently, how the musicians have it so good compared to other workers, and how management’s offer is exceptionally fair-minded—even generous. I understand that in the midst of a labor dispute, both sides can strain truth to further their argument, but I have to say there are so many basic, readily-apparent problems with this ad that I suspect it  actually serves to undermine the management’s case.  Let’s take a look.


1)  You’re comparing a median income with an average income? These are wildly different things… the average of 1, 2, and 10 is 4.3. The median is 2.

2)  It’s unclear what you mean by “Professionals with a Ph.D.” or why that metric is germane to this discussion.  For example, there are vast differences between the expected salaries of, say, a geophysicist working for an oil company and someone with a doctorate in divinity, or a professional with a Ph.D. in occupational therapy with one in history.  The term covers as wide a range of careers as the similarly generic term, “college graduates.” Does the median salary for such a wide-ranging group really tell us anything?

3) Related to that, why did you choose to make a comparison with Ph.D. professionals, who may or may not approximate the level of training and working conditions of the musicians?  I’m quite certain that my doctoral program in history looked nothing like the training program of Curtis or Juilliard.  Why not compare, say, a professional sports player? Or if you didn’t want to go to that level, how about anyone else with a specialized set of skills… like a plumber?  Just out of curiosity, I’d love to see what it costs to bring a group of 97 plumbers to your house for three hours on a Saturday night.  But I digress.

4)  I also note you’ve included benefits in the musicians’ salaries to get a big scary number. Why don’t you do that with the “control group?”

5)  The next category down, you change the point of comparison.  While the salary comparison was between the musicians and Ph.D. professionals, the other points of comparison are between musicians and U.S. workers generally.  Why the shift?  One thing that immediately springs to mind—Ph.D. professionals often work at universities, where they might get several months off during the summer, which would further skew your numbers.

6)  The musicians only work 21 hours a week? So, the Vikings players only work a few hours one day a week on Sunday? What is surprising is you yourselves point out the musicians also practice several hours a day every day, and have to have already learned their music prior to the first rehearsal—i.e. on their own time. But although you acknowledge this, you don’t assign a number.  Let’s fill that in, and conservatively add 21 hours (3 hours per day).  This raises the total to 42 hours a week, which tends to nullify your argument.

7)  You also raise the issue that this schedule provides opportunities for musicians to teach on their own time.  This is correct, but it hardly qualifies as a benefit that you offer them… it has nothing to do with you at all.  So why do you bring it up?  If I was moonlighting on my off hours, my main employer would never publicly state that my second job was somehow a benefit of my first one.  And my employers certainly wouldn’t argue that the fact that they allowed me to take a second job at all constituted a generously-offered “perk.”

8)  If you add up the maximum allowed sick days, paid leave, and half paid leave, the musicians apparently get 53.5 weeks off a year.

9)  Perhaps I’m missing something, but both insurance plans are paid by the employer. Doesn’t each organization negotiate that figure with its respective providers? The employees don’t have any say in that. Aren’t you essentially blaming the musicians because you’ve negotiated a bad deal on insurance?

I think you were trying a little too hard to push your argument here.  Again, I understand that in a bitter dispute like this that all kinds of rhetoric can fly, but I think you’d make your case more powerfully if you didn’t resort to some of this hyperbole.




7 thoughts on “I’m Not Sure the Orchestra’s Full-Page Ad Helps Their Case

  1. Dear Scott
    1) I love your list.
    B) Another archaic, but relevant meaning of “list” is to shift to one side, or careen.
    III) The Minnesota Orchestra is listing dramatically.
    Fourthly, please keep posting, especially lists, because this is great.

    Sincerely, Amy


  2. Yes, this is great stuff! As my amiga, Amy said, “Please keep writing” One of my favorite nonsensical tidbits —-the MOA maintained for months that the finances of the orchestra were WAY too complicated for anyone else to understand, (including people who analyze similar data everyday of their work lives) and then they turn around and use 4th grade math to explain their ridiculous figures to the public. What a bunch of arrogant morons.


  3. Most of your points are good, but it would seem the 21 hours per week includes rehearsals, since the orchestra’s concerts aren’t seven hours long. I think by “practice time” they mean individual practice time.


    • You are correct, and sorry if I was unclear in my wording. Yes, the Orchestra contract provides for a set amount of rehearsals (with the full group together) and performances per week, usually referred to as a “service.” This accounts for the 21 hours they list in their ad. Management also states that individual practice time is part of the job (it has to be–musicians need to stay in shape just like an athlete, and they are expected to have learned their parts prior to the first full group rehearsal). Since management declines to list how many hours, on average, such practice entails, I add in an additional 21 hours of individual practice time to reflect this reality, .


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