Binding Arbitration – What is management afraid of?

What is management afraid they can’t afford – or can’t afford to lose – under binding arbitration?

The crux of the issue has been management’s vision of the “new orchestra model”, containing a lot more “community outreach”- which will supposedly generate new audience and dollars the DSO needs to survive.

Base pay has long included community service with the musicians performing as an orchestra. So what’s the problem with performing other community services such as teaching, coaching, and small ensemble playing? Playing at a level required by the DSO demands an average of 20 hours a week playing together as an orchestra, and an equal amount of time of individual practice in preparation. You can’t throw in these other activities and expect the same performance level. The musicians are not trying to use arbitration as an escape from community service. They are taking a gamble that the arbitrator will recognize that they are providing community service, and additional service as proposed by management would compromise the basic reason DSO exists. Management doesn’t want to recognize it.

So if the DSO musicians won’t do it, suppose management hires replacements to do it for less – and advertises them as “musicians from the DSO”? Teaching, coaching and small ensemble playing are all extremely important, but they are not outreach activities in line with the core mission of the DSO. These are more appropriately provided by other organizations. For the DSO to take on these activities amounts to nothing more than exploiting the “brand” that exists because of these world class musicians and use it to run a revenue-generating referral service. This is what management is afraid of losing, but we have not seen any financial projections that support it. Performances by a full world class orchestra that are in tune with its community are a lot more visible and fundable than musicians going around onesie-twosie to generate a couple bucks under the guise of outreach.

We like the traditional orchestra format – overture, concerto, symphony – as much as anyone. However, it is no longer the correct model for Detroit. It is no longer relevant to enough of the community to generate the critical mass to sustain it. Management controls the artistic leadership, not the musicians. Management has failed to insure that the DSO will connect with the “D”. This is the biggest management failure of all. If they lose the cover of the “new orchestra model”, they won’t be able to hide this fact any longer.

Anything management might lose in binding arbitration would be a small burden to bear compared to the certain damage that will occur the longer the musicians are not performing as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Stop the damage. Start the music.

Doug Scott



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