Talks Fail To Resolve Dispute Between Orchestra And Union
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Aired 9/25/12 on KPBS News.
Orchestra Nova and the musicians union met yesterday to resolve contract negotiations that stalled last month. No agreement was reached and both sides left frustrated.
After nine hours of mediated negotiations, Orchestra Nova management and representatives from the musicians union, Local 325 AFM, failed to agree on a contract allowing union musicians to perform with Orchestra Nova.
The main point of contention remains Orchestra Nova's insistence on hiring musicians on a concert by concert basis, instead of working with the same musicians for three-year stints, as has been the practice in years past. Nova artistic director Jung-Ho Pak said the freedom to pick and choose musicians is necessary in order to achieve his vision of recasting classical concerts to include more emotion and movement on stage.
During yesterday's talks held at union headquarters, Nova management (Pak was not present) offered what they saw as a compromise. They would offer the traditional annual contracts to 15 of the musicians and select the rest (roughly 14 spots) from the union pool based on how they fit with Pak's vision.
The musicians union said they won't agree to a contract that "fires" 44 percent of the orchestra's musicians. "We were shocked and disheartened," said union president Andrea Altona. "We feel the musicians who stood by this orchestra and helped them recover are now being slapped in the face."
During contract negotiations three years ago, the musicians agreed to a pay freeze so that Orchestra Nova could establish financial stability.
“These are people who’ve never been given a single warning that anyone was unhappy with their performance," said Altona.
The two sides did not meet face to face. They remained in separate rooms while a federal mediator went back and forth.
As contract talks between orchestras and musicians break down around the country, this dispute has less to do with salary (though that is an issue) and more to do with contract stability and where it rubs up against an organization's artistic vision.
Orchestra Nova management said the financial health of the orchestra depends on this freedom to choose musicians. They feel justified imposing this change.
"We know that our artistic model works and that it translates to a good business model," said Beverly Lambert, Nova CEO. "We sold out all of our Nova Classic concerts last year. We know that the public is reacting positively to what we’re offering."
The musicians agreed, at the end of August, to perform in the first Nova concert series on Oct. 20th. Union representatives say they agreed to this as an act of good faith while negotiations were still under way. "At this point our musicians need this money so I’m going to still counsel them to take the work while it’s available," said Altona.
When asked if musicians would eventually strike, Altona said all options are being considered.
In the meantime, the union is calling college professors and amateur orchestras to let them know what's going on in case they are being recruited by Orchestra Nova to play in future concerts. Nova CEO Lambert would not comment as to whether such recruitment was under way.
No further talks between the two parties are scheduled.