Closing Arguments

The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony ratified a compromised agreement with management. This is great news for the musicians, and the symphony at large. You can go through the full break down in the musicians press release.

Since this has come to an end, I'll put my closing arguments on this particular strike as well. This isn't to say that my time blogging the political and social affairs in music is over...far from it. The conversations that have occurred thanks to this strike, and the unexpected notoriety of this blog, have really sparked a great many ideas in my head. But for now, closing arguments.

--First off, I want to send a special thank you to Tim Higgins. He took the time to email me, and have a correspondance regarding the strike and answered questions I've had about the strike. I've waited far too long to reply to his last email, but without the back and forth we had (while both being extremely busy, meaning the few emails we were able to shoot off) I couldn't write this post.

--He pointed out that I wasn't giving enough credit to the development and marketing departments. And, that is definitely true! For a group such as San Francisco to hit the $300 Million mark in their endowment, and keep up ticket sales, those groups must be doing a fantastic job. 

It did come across a bit that I was against all the administrative positions in symphonies. This just isn't true at all. They are hardworking people, many of whom are musicians on some level, and entered into the administration side. They see this as an opportunity to continue working in something they believe in, and provide amazing support. All these people deserve our respect.

But it's also important to remember, what is the point of an orchestra, and how do we achieve it. See my last post for some thoughts on that.

--As I mentioned, you can go point through point in the breakdown of the contract on this page. To summarize, pay will go through a modest increase of the next five years (up 4.5%). This come close to offsetting the increased payment into benefits, but not quite. The symphony shot down all the "draconian cuts" and got a reasonably fair contract.

In the spirit of cooperation, I'm happy a contract got ratified that doesn't break anyone. In the spirit of my profession, I'm still worried. At the end of the day, they musicians still lose a little money. Management set up a negotiation where a win became "we didn't have to take huge cuts, therefore we win!" instead of "our demands for pay equality were met, so we win!" This was, in some ways, an artificially created situation. Meaning, what were management's real motives? I highly doubt it was their actual demands. There I go into conspiracy theory again, but it is a normal tactic. "If we shoot really high, and get a small portion of what we want, we still win."

--It came out that management was pushing the cuts early on. And that the executive director didn't even meet with the musicians until they went on strike. The group handling negotiations was inexperienced. And it wasn't until an arbitrator was brought in that progress was made.

This screams "attack pattern alpha" on the part of management. They didn't want huge cuts. They wanted small cuts. Probably, they wanted something specific, for the musicians to pay into benefits at the same level of administration, which would save a fairly large sum of money. Now, that's not completely unreasonable. 

But what if there wasn't really a financial reason? What if they had been operating at large profits and growing their endowment? How do you convince anyone to pay more into something when they don't really HAVE to?

You start a hard negotiating stance. Start with "take 40% pay cut" and go from there. That way, when musicians work back to "no pay cut, but we'll pay into benefits" it seems like a win.

And hold out your guns. What's with symphonies negotiating with underlings, or not even having a director (The ISO went into negotiations with three top management positions vacant)? It's holding back your guns. It gives you a "Oh, I'm sorry, these people didn't understand the negotiations well enough." You get the parent coming in to save the day. take a rational stance, and you'll win.

--Symphonies are becoming meritocracies...without actually giving bonuses for merit. "You have to do X, Y, and Z to keep your pay and benefits." "But we won a Grammy and have huge CD sales!" "but we only grew the endowment 5% instead of 7%" "But...I'm not directly tied to that! All I can do is perform amazingly, and try to get a little personal advertising" "And you didn't do enough of that!" "BUT WE HAVE A MARKETING DEPARTMENT!!!"

This feels like a real conversation. It's similar to what teachers are dealing with. Somehow, it's our fault that universities aren't making money. 1) neither organization is about making money (see previous post). 2) It's placing the wrong conditions on the workers to increase pay!
Think about a job we can all feel for--cashier at a chain store. Let's say your raise was tied to another department. Electronics has to do a 3% increase in sales, or you don't get a raise. But you don't work in electronics, you work front end. How can you increase sales in electronics? All of a sudden, you're having to pitch batteries and thumb drives by the check out...and hope no one asks about a watch battery. It's beyond the normal scope of your job, but you're asked to do it, to get a raise.

Or, maybe, if could be tied to having an average checkout score of 95% G (that's a Target thing...). That has to do with your speed of checkout based on number of items. That you CAN control (in some fashion). This is becoming a general trend in business--"your raise is now based on something you cannot control in any way. It's based on merit, but not YOUR merit."

--A clear point here--This strike was NOT about greed. I have heard that so many times over the past few weeks. "They make enough money, they're just being greedy."

I'll just give one example. Let's say you work at a large company. This company is doing extremely well, making billions in profits. BILLIONS. You work somewhere in middle-management, say, store manager. You're doing well for yourself, no doubt. And your store has done extremely well. It comes time for bonuses (they do that instead of raises these days), and what happens? You have the power to give bonuses for your immediate employees. Based on the great sales for the year, you cut everyone a nice little bonus (because this middle manager is an awesome person). And then the District Manager, upper management throughout the company get bonuses from corporate. HUGE bonuses, because, somehow, it was their work.

And the middle manager?

He gets nothing.

Now, does he have a right to complain? The company is doing amazing business. He's a fantastic leader, as shown by his store raking in the cash AND being a decent human being and giving bonuses to his immediate employees. But his boss doesn't give him a raise. Because, somehow, upper management only sees upper management as being important. Middle management often understands the workers make everything run. But the middle guys can get squeezed.

It's similar to what happened with the automotive companies. Big time directors got huge bonuses. Line workers kept themselves afloat thanks to the union (and, yes, there was some major union corruption earlier in the time that helped lead to the crisis). But what about the white collar workers? the engineers? the secretaries?

Thrown to the wind. Pay cuts, benefits gone. Even while huge bonuses went to the highest officials. Is this equitable treatment?

--Final notes/questions: This is all about staying together, not just as a "union" (which I'm not even a member of, btw), but as a community. When one person gets screwed, everyone gets screwed. When one symphony takes cuts when they're not needed, then others will as well. When the max pay for the best symphony is $75K, how much will the smallest one make? Everything is compared, precedence is set, and it could doom things.

There are problems the symphony, in general, needs to address. How does it stay relevant? Where do we find new funds? How do we use technology to aid our fundraising?

It used to be a phone call. Now it's an email. How amazingly easy is it to delete an email without even reading the subject? How many donations are lost that way? Phone calls can be annoying, there's no doubt, but what about other more "personal" communications? What's the best way to reach people?

And what makes people excited?

All questions that need researched and answered. But, there's one thing I do know:

A safe, conservative approach will always fail. When you need to grow, you've got to do something special. And that's not 4 Beethoven pieces in a year, and your featured soloist playing the most ho-hum overplayed solo in the repertoire.

Music, and all art, connects with the generation it was created in. Yes, the best art is timeless. And many pieces created during their time were not. But Telemann was widely popular. So was Salieri. And Meyerbeer. Time will tell who lasts forever, but without those people, the people writing music of their time, that connected with people. Not "popular" music in the vulgar sense (there were plenty of dances, songs, and folk music outside of Paris' French Grand Opera) but music that captures that moment and may not last forever.

That momentary music is important. It's important to play it at least once, or else no one will even know if it's going to last forever.

So make truly exciting programs. Take chances. It may turn out to be nothing by kitsch, or it may end up being something truly sublime. But reserve judgement until you've at least given it a shot!

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