Over the past few days I’ve been hit with a strange sense of déjà vu… as well as an impending disaster. Both these feelings are tied to the ongoing story of the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) and its contentious labor negotiations with its musicians. Negotiations have drawn on for more than a year, through 29 bargaining sessions, but once again the management refuses to budge. Once again an orchestra’s management seeks to “right size” its budget through drastic pay cuts borne entirely by the musicians.
Once again an orchestra seeks to cut its way to prosperity.
You’ll immediately understand why this seems so familiar—this ugly scenario closely mirrors similar meltdowns with the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra…
…you get the point.
I was a close observer for many of these battles, and I’ve been horrified that many of the same arguments that animated these disputes are being used in Ft. Worth, too. Horrified not just because these ideas were wrong, but that they were strategically so ineffective. For example, Michael Henson of the Minnesota Orchestra and Stanley Romanstein of the ASO tried to impose punitive labor contracts on the orchestra musicians and impose a new business model on their respective organizations, but the community ultimately rebelled against these ham-fisted negotiation techniques, and both Henson and Romanstein were forced out. Peter Gelb of the Met nearly faced a similar fate; he still holds his job, but is clearly in a weaker position.
Given this record of failure, I’m curious that anyone else would want to try this same approach.
But there’s something else I want to bring up.
Let’s leave off, for a moment, the particulars of this contentious labor negotiation. Let’s put aside ideas about unions, incompetent management, or the idea of “winning.”
In pushing forth a harsh, punitive contract, the FWSO management is damaging the community as a whole. And that damage will last even—and especially—if it “wins” this round of contract negotiations.
Let me explain. Continue reading