On January 18, 2008, the Columbus Dispatch reported the results of a “Strategic Plan” prepared by the board of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO). The plan concluded, and the Dispatch reported, that the CSO budget was to be cut immediately by $3 million—from $12.5 million to $9.5 million. This was to be accomplished, in part, by firing 22 of the 53 full-time musicians and cutting the 46-week season by 12 weeks.
The plan had never been discussed with the musicians during its development and the first they heard of it was weeks before the first scheduled bargaining session. At that first bargaining session, management made that proposal for a one-year contract to the union team (“Committee”). The union (Central Ohio Federation of Musicians, Local 103) responded with a proposal for a three-year contract with a six percent cut in musicians’ compensation in the first year, smaller cuts in the second, and recovery in the third. The union’s proposal, of course, did not include the firing of any current players, but a willingness to discuss a reduction in the size of the orchestra, gradually, by attrition. The CSO response to this proposal was to drop the demand for firing any musicians, but instead, proposed a reduction in the total compensation of the 53 full-time musicians by 40% and cutting the per service rate for subs and extras from $150 to $100—a 33 1/3% reduction for these musicians who enjoy few benefits and no job security. That proposal, of course, simply moved money around and the proposed budget would remain at $9.5 million.
When that was rejected, the next proposal from the CSO was that any money raised over and above the $9.5 million would be “shared” with the musicians. An interesting proposal in light of their position that it was impossible for them to raise any more than $9.5 million in Columbus. When the union asked about a multi-year agreement, the response was affirmative, provided that each year was to be budgeted at $9.5 million. Nevertheless, in a further attempt to accommodate the board, the union even proposed that if they insisted on that magical $9.5 million, the union would accept it, provided that the musicians’ share would be $5 million—still a reduction from the previous musicians’ compensation of $5.6 million by over $500,000! This, too, was rejected and the management continued to insist that the musicians’ share be slashed to $3.6 million.
Because the management was obviously not bargaining in good faith, the union proposed that the “bargaining” end and that the dispute be submitted to impartial binding arbitration. Once again, that proposal was rejected. The response of the union was to suggest that a consultant/mediator from the orchestra field be invited to help. That suggestion was likewise rejected.
At that point the CSO team turned their previous proposal into a “final offer.” In order to dispel any notion that the Union and the Committee were not truly representative of the orchestra, the Union agreed to take it back to the bargaining unit, albeit with a recommendation that they reject it. And reject it they did—60 to 0. At the meeting, not a single musician expressed any interest in their “final offer” despite the Committee’s admonition that rejection could mean the shutdown of operations.
Upon learning of the vote and after one more meeting with the union team, the CSO confirmed that no proposal from the union would be acceptable which did not contain a $9.5 million budget and a 40% cut in musicians’ compensation. With no further meetings scheduled, the board then announced their intention to cancel the seven-week summer season. In our opinion, for a number of reasons, such a “shut-down” constituted an illegal lockout. When the union would not relent, the board followed through on the threat and the summer season was cancelled. At the same time, the board announced that the CBA was terminated. A grievance was filed and the filing of an unfair labor practice will follow.
After cancelling the summer season, the board finally agreed to consultation/mediation with the executive director of the Nashville Symphony, Alan Valentine. Immediately upon reaching that agreement, management insisted upon bringing in a labor mediator as well. This had never been discussed—the CSO simply chose the mediator and invited him. Nevertheless, in order not to kill the mediation, and because it is only mediation and not arbitration, the union agreed to add the labor mediator.
The mediation lasted three days, and despite the best efforts of the mediators, the “final offer” of the management which was presented to the Committee was rejected by the Committee and ultimately by the overwhelming vote of the orchestra. As of this writing no further meetings are scheduled.