PSO management, musicians agree on virtually nothing
October 20, 2016 12:04 AM
Members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra walk the picket line outside Heinz Hall on Wednesday.
Melia Tourangeau, right, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, walks by as principal oboist Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida and other symphony members walk the picket line outside Heinz Hall on Wednesday.
Rhian Kenny, a piccolo player with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, walks the picket line outside Heinz Hall on Wednesday.
By Elizabeth Bloom / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The management and musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra are at odds over just about everything these days.
Most of those disagreements have to do with the future: how much money the musicians, who have been on strike since Sept. 30, will make; how their retirements will be funded; and what the organization's five-year financial forecast should look like.
But, curiously enough, the two sides also differ over basic matters that have already taken place, such as whether the musicians were notified about the latest concert cancellations before management announced them to the public, and whether the musicians permitted management to give them a presentation about the organization’s finances.
Those disagreements are not mere byproducts of the he-said, she-said nature of contract disputes. Rather, the rhetoric reflects a nastier style of orchestra labor dispute that has taken hold in the last decade or so, turning work stoppages into “a weapon of mass destruction,” said Chicago-based arts consultant Drew McManus.
What distinguishes Pittsburgh’s nasty battle is how quickly it got to this stage.
“It seemed to be that way out of the gate,” said Mr. McManus, who has written about the PSO for the blog Adaptistration. “That’s a really good sign of how things have been unfolding in the bargaining process up to the work stoppage.”
The latest example came Monday, when the organization announced it was canceling orchestra concerts through Nov. 18. The musicians posted on their Facebook page that they had learned about the cancellations through social media.
“BREAKING NEWS: Due to a refusal to negotiate, PSI management has cancelled all concerts through November 18th,” the musicians posted, referring to Pittsburgh Symphony Inc. “We just found out from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Facebook page.”
Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO of the orchestra, emailed the orchestra committee at 2:21 p.m. about the latest cancellations, which management said had to be decided in advance to alert patrons or guest artists who would be left in limbo. The PSO posted the announcement on its own Facebook page at 2:35 p.m., before the orchestra committee had a chance to communicate the news to its members, said orchestra committee chairman and bassist Micah Howard.
The two sides, especially the musicians, have been waging these battles over social media. Other than the email from Ms. Tourangeau, they have communicated only through their attorneys and through federal mediators.
Apparently, some things have been lost in translation, and the two sides pointed fingers over why no negotiations have been scheduled.
In a statement announcing the concert cancellations, symphony COO Christian Schornich said the musicians had not reached out to management through “official channels” to schedule another bargaining session.
But the musicians, who are not receiving any pay or benefits from the PSO, have expressed an interest through the mediators to get back to the table, Mr. Howard said.
“From the very first day, we have made requests through the mediators to return to the negotiating table, which is an official request, and those requests have been denied,” he said. “Why would we not want to be at the table negotiating?”
While management made its last, best and final offer last month, Ms. Tourangeau said the negotiating team is open to other concessionary contract proposals that would save the organization the same amount of money as the last proposal.
“In the mediation process we threw out all kinds of creative ways to find a solution that could address our needs,” she said, referring to contract terms that would link salaries with certain fundraising efforts.
Another point of contention has to do with how willing the musicians have been to learn about the financial health of the organization. Management invited the orchestra committee to listen to a presentation about the organization’s finances in June, when both sides made their first proposals. Management’s initial offer proposed cutting musicians’ pay by 25 percent and reducing the size of the 99-piece orchestra by nine players.
“We did have a very emotional response to these drastic cuts that they put on the table, and we had no interest in discussing the financials,” Mr. Howard said.
“That has changed drastically since that point,” he said, referring to efforts by the musicians to examine the organization’s audits. The musicians also asked management to provide figures from the last fiscal year. Management denied that request, citing the fact that those numbers have not yet been audited.
Because the musicians didn’t want to listen to a presentation about the organization’s finances, management delivered a written statement about that information to them, Mr. Schornich said.
There may be some hope for an escape from this back-and-forth rhetoric. The two sides have agreed to hire a yet-to-be-named independent analyst or firm to look at the organization’s finances, Ms. Tourangeau said.
Mr. McManus said such independent observers have helped organizations resolve labor disputes, allowing members of both sides to “save face.”
A newer phenomenon, he said, is the rise of audience associations that have stepped in to offer financial analyses and push political leaders to weigh in on particularly bruising labor disputes. No such association exists in Pittsburgh.
Elizabeth Bloom: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1750 and Twitter: @BloomPG.
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