Friday, April 06, 2012

No Scab Orchestra in Louisville!

The Louisville Orchestra was once one of the most important sponsors of new music in the US, through its commissioning and recording program. That was a long time ago and now the orchestra has been particularly hard hit by the great recession. Negotiations between management and the players have long been at an impasse, despite the players agreeing to significant concessions, and now the management has shut the players out altogether and have announced plans to replace the entire orchestra with non-union players, that's right, scabs. The players have agreed to binding outside arbitration, but one of the management's two stated objections to arbitration is, tellingly, that "it would have given an arbitrator the power to make decisions regarding management."

Unfortunately, there is a plausible scenario in the US in which only a small handful of major cities will have large professional orchestras whose players have reasonable compensation, security of employment, and decent benefits. The rest of the country will then have much less live orchestral music, and what they have will be played by pick-up orchestras or orchestras whose players have no security or benefits and are seriously undercompensated for their skills, training and labor, but will be managed by a class of professional administrators who compete nationally for very comfortable wages on the basis of their abilities to negotiate musicians' job security, wages, and benefits downward as much as their abilities to fundraise and promote concerts. The Louisville Orchestra can be one of the firewalls against such a scenario. I was pleased to be able to sign the online petition in support of the players, here.

Obviously, with their intention to hire an entire new group of players, the orchestra's management believes that there is enough interest in the Louisville region to support the continued existence of such an ensemble, so the questions is why they have not been able to do the real managerial heavy lifting, fund raising and cutting overhead rather than assets, and figure out how to make it happen with their single major asset, the group of players who have committed their careers to the orchestra and wish to continue with the orchestra even on the basis of considerable sacrifices in their own personal financial plans, rather than treat them simply as financial liabilities. And let's hope that when the orchestra comes back, that there will be a renewal of their earlier commitment to new music, to music that keeps the orchestral repertoire alive and lively.

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