It’s axiomatic in collective bargaining that negotiating committees have a moral obligation to lead, and that the key leadership act is recommending approval or rejection of a proposed settlement. It appears that the DSO negotiating committee took that lesson to heart:
The negotiating committee of the striking Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians recommended Thursday that its members vote to reject what DSO officials have called their “final” offer.
The musicians will vote tonight and Saturday on the proposal, which the committee members say falls short on issues like salary and number of weeks worked.
Results of the vote will be announced Saturday afternoon. Voting tonight and tomorrow morning will be by Internet to accommodate the 15 or so musicians temporarily playing with other orchestras.
DSO officials had asked for a response by the end of Thursday, but said they’ll give the musicians time before taking further action — which could well involve canceling the rest of the 2010-11 season.
The plan that’s under consideration would cut first-year base salaries from $104,650 to somewhere in the low $80,000 range, though management has declined to give a precise figure.
At a news conference Thursday morning, musicians said the management offer fell far short of what they thought they’d all agreed on when the two sides met earlier in the evening.
“The mediators left at 10:30 Sunday night in the belief that the deal was done,” said principal horn and negotiator Karl Pituch.
But three hours later, he said, management presented a plan musicians felt was markedly different from what had been discussed.
Executive vice-president Paul Hogle said the DSO would withhold comment until Saturday.
The musicians also identified the four mediators who tried to broker an agreement over the weekend: Sen. Carl Levin, his nephew Andy Levin, acting director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth; Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans; and Matthew Cullen, CEO of Rock Enterprises.
The line about management presenting “a plan musicians felt was markedly different from what had been discussed” is probably the key here. Without knowing the details, it seems that the musicians believe that management is simply unwilling to negotiate on key issues, to the degree that the musicians feel that agreements already reached are being reneged upon.
Concessionary bargaining is hard enough. If the musicians feel that what’s at stake is not just their wages and working conditions over the short and medium terms, but also the process under which they might be able to influence the future of the institution, then it begins to feel to them as though they don’t have much more to lose by going to the wall. As events in my home state of Wisconsin have shown this week, workers will step up and defend the collective bargaining process with great intensity.
I never wrote the whole story about what happened to my orchestra during our 18-month negotiation in 1993 and 1994, but this sounds like a carbon copy made by an industrial-strength photocopier.