Resolving Internal Disputes for Strength and Unity

By Kahn, Nathan | International Musician, August 2007 | Go to article overview
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Resolving Internal Disputes for Strength and Unity


Kahn, Nathan, International Musician


There are, and always will be, differences of opinion on any union negotiating committee. That is normal and desirable. Without those differences, I would conclude that either the negotiating committee does not fully represent the broad range of constituencies in an orchestra, or there is a personal agenda that has taken precedence over the desires of the rank and file, or perhaps the union and its negotiating committee members are not being forthright about their views, for whatever reason. Controversy is and will always be a part of how we conduct our internal business, but it is how we resolve internal disputes that lays the groundwork for either unity and strength, or division and weakness.

Consider the following scenario:

The Southern North Dakota Symphony (SNDS) has a 36-week season, and an annual minimum salary of $30,000, or $833 per week. Management has come to the table with a proposal to subcontract the orchestra in the summer for an additional eight weeks of employment to an area summer music festival, but at less than 50% of current weekly scale, to the tune of $400 per week for eight to nine services each week. Despite the best efforts of the negotiating committee to find creative methods to get management to come up with additional dollars to pay for these weeks at minimum weekly scale, management is firm in their insistence that this additional employment be paid at the foregoing rates.

In caucus, the local president and the orchestra's negotiating committee are divided on this issue. The local president and two of the negotiating committee members feel strongly that the orchestra should accept this work, despite the greatly reduced scale for the following reasons:

* Acceptance of this work will give the orchestra a foothold into an area music festival that the orchestra has sought entrance into for years.

* Once the orchestra is established in this festival, it will be much easier to bargain for increasing the weekly scale to the contractual minimums.

* The union and the orchestra has sought for years to increase the number of symphony employment weeks, and this may very well be the only opportunity to do so.

* If the SNDS does not accept this work, the work will likely go to the Southern Bohica Symphony (SBS), an area non-union symphony.

The balance of the orchestra's negotiating committee is strongly opposed to accepting this proposal for the following reasons:

* The music festival has not contracted with the SNDS previously because they never wanted to pay SNDS scale, but see this as an opportunity to hire the SNDS at less than half price, for which the festival would enjoy greatly increased ticket sales, attendance, and prestige.

* On a nine-service week, the resulting perservice scale would be $44.44 a service, which no member of the orchestra would be willing to accept.

* If the union and the membership accept this greatly reduced pay scale, it would put the existing symphony minimums in great jeopardy in future negotiations.

* Even if the summer festival engaged the SBS, that orchestra's artistic quality is so poor that it is quite likely that they would not be engaged for more than one season. Moreover, as the SBS is a part-time orchestra, and many of this orchestra's members have full-time jobs during the day, a majority of the orchestra would be unavailable for daytime services at the summer festival.

The local president and the committee continue its discussion on this most controversial proposal late into the evening.

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