Detroit Symphony Musicians Offer to Return with No Contract

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Striking musicians with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra say they'll return to work without a contract. Cellist and spokesman Haden McKay says the issues will be worked out through binding arbitration, after a contentious, nearly five-month strike.

"Ideally we'd be at the bargaining table together, and we could work out issue by issue, and each side could make sure it was able to protect the things it thought were really important,” he said. “This way we're giving up some control for that. It will be in the hands of a neutral third party.”

Under the last offer from management, base salaries for musicians would drop from more than $100,000 to $80,000. The remainder of the 2010-2011 season was suspended on February 19 and talks have been at a standstill. The orchestra's entire percussion section announced their departure this weekend.

McKay said that musicians arrived at the decision to propose binding arbitration was not a unanimous decision, but it was a majority vote.

“The risk is that things could come into the contract that we’re not really happy with because we didn’t have a chance to negotiate them through our representatives. In ordinary circumstances I don’t think striking musicians would be very eager to do this. But in this case, we don’t seem to be getting a solution in the proper way.

Musicians say that they’ll only able to play if management agrees to adhere to binding arbitration. They proposed the method for finding the arbitrators, consisting of a three-member board, where the musicians get to select one arbitrator, management selects one arbitrator and those two select the third.

As of press time, Detroit management did not return several requests for comment on the musicians’ offer.

"It's a surprise,” said Drew McManus, a Chicago-based orchestra consultant. “I don't know if it was an idea that someone just had and they ran with it, but it's very unique.

“Typically, both sides in a labor dispute won't be able to agree on an arbitrator to select. This process eliminates some of those concerns. Since it is binding, whatever the panel decides, that becomes the contract both parties agree to going forward."

The strike, which began October 4, has sent ripple effects throughout the classical music field as well as Detroit's business community. Restaurant owners around the vicinity of the Max M. Fisher Music Center say they have lost up to 40% of their business. People in the orchestra field see the outcome of the strike as a harbinger of other contract negotiations.

If management accepts the binding arbitration proposal, many questions remain about whether the orchestra can salvage the remainder of the season.

"Folks are optimistic that this whole process could be done in a month or less than two months," said Greg Bowens, a spokesman for the DSO musicians. "But there's nothing that's written in stone anywhere."

"We just hope that they can come back to the stage,” said Jeff Strayer, public relations coordinator for Michigan Opera Theater. “It's a cultural presence that's missing in the city. We hope they'll be able to work together to come to a resolution. Other than that, we don't have a comment for one side or the other."

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Comments [6]

Eduard Paul from California

My daughter is a professional musician for the
last 20 years! She belongs to the Union! and pay the high dues! Her salary is far away from these
salaries they get paid!!! Where is equality? Some
get paid too much, and some not enough, for the same education and work. It's very unfair....

Mar. 02 2011 05:18 PM
Listener from NJ

Just think how much easier it would all be if the energy we spent attacking each other's success, salaries, benefits, etc., would be directed toward getting back the money that was stolen by the banks and derivative scams.

Does anyone really think that we can't be productive enough to produce more than enough for everything we need and want?

Mar. 02 2011 03:50 PM
Eileen from New York

This is not the world it was just six months ago. I think the musicians need to get real regarding their salaries and what they are asking for. Times are tough - and they are lucky they still have jobs let alone an orchestra to play in - think about this people.

Mar. 02 2011 03:30 PM
Michael Meltzer

The only American wealth that supercedes the automobile money in Detroit is the oil money in Dallas.
The development office of the Detroit Symphony just isn't doing its job.

Mar. 01 2011 10:40 PM
Michael Meltzer

Back to the real world!

Mar. 01 2011 09:54 PM
David from Flushing

Given the increasing difficulty of keeping orchestras financially afloat, perhaps it is time to consider reorganization. Would it not be better for the boards to completely yield their powers to the musicians? Donors can still be generous whether or not they are running the show.

Mar. 01 2011 08:35 PM

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