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Detroit Symphony Orchestra - financial problems

saxhound

Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#82
Slightly OT.

While the AFM talks a good game about representing all member musicians, the reality is quite different. There are "symphonic" members, and then all others. Even here in Chicago, where the name Petrillo still resonates, the casual / club date musician is mostly an afterthought. Their main focus is definitely on the musician as an employee of a larger entity, and the related recording rights issues. Get stiffed on a gig by a local club owner - oh well, too bad - here's a phone number you can call to register a complaint.

I joined the AFM in Pittsburgh when I was 18, after a local "enforcer" threatened to break my fingers and instruments while playing a gig at a local dive. The other members of the band had neglected to tell me that they were AFM members. I kept up my membership throughout the years, and transferred in to various locals as I moved about the country. In some smaller towns, I would actually get calls for gigs from the local secretary or business agent.

In Chicago, with over 250 sax players listed in the local directory, and hundreds (if not thousands) more non-union players available, your chances of getting a call are infinitesimal. A couple years ago, I finally asked myself what benefits I was receiving for my $200+ per year. The answer was a $1,000 life insurance policy, and the ability to say I was a member if someone asked, which they never did. If you play in a big band around here, the odds are that about half the players are members. No one asks, no one thinks about it, and I would bet that very few leaders are filing contracts with the local. The last time I saw a business agent show up at a job and ask to see cards was over 20 years ago.

To touch on Terry's point about Deejays, the new trend here these days is the iPod wedding. The bride and groom program their iPod, and either rent a cheap PA, or sometimes plug in to the house system. I even saw one where they set the house emcee mic on a table and laid the iPod next to it. A less than one inch speaker broadcasting into a $19 Radio Shack mic into who knows how many 70 volt speakers mounted in the ceiling. Those Edison cylinders would have sounded better!
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#83
I would disagree.

Symphonic players represent a "viable sized" unit. You can't build a symphonic organization without having something in the nature of a fifty person gathering. Strength in numbers applies here.

"Big bands" are dead, whether we in the trade are willing to accept that fact or not. Booking a group in the twenty member range is difficult at best, and finding a "regular venue" just isn't an option any more. The most significant costs when doing business in the entertainment field are the personnel expenses - the nightly wages for a big band can easily cover the nut for rent/debt service and utilities, with more than enough left over to front a quality recorded setup for the tunes. And, that's just one night's expense - there are twenty one more nights in that months to pay for everything else.

By cutting personnel, you cut quality, but most folks don't know that there's a problem (they may unconsciously suspect it, but they don't "know" it). And, by going to recorded music, you may have to cover the license fees but that's it. With some cost due to the absence of a live performance, you get "professional quality" music that always delivers what you want, when you want it. A trade off, but most are willing to accept it.

Smaller units were once viable (when other operations were also unionized). But, as mentioned above, unions are on the wane these days. So, card checks serve little purpose, except to shut out non-union folks in the group. In the old days, non-union folks in one trade would not be tolerated by union folks in other trades. During my bricklaying days, there were many times when we would not cross picket lines of other unions, no matter what the cause for their dispute may have been. The expression "Solidarity forever" was not just an empty sentiment - it ruled within American labor for about three quarters of a century.

It may be ancient history for some, but even ancient history has had some bearing on the modern world.

The solution? Well, collective bargaining is only workable for those who are willing to organize. And, with the rise of the middle classes, fewer and fewer are interested in collective security, feeling that they have "got theirs", and that they can go it on their own.

My grandfather was a professional musician back in the days when it was considered a "trade". When here in America, he lived a lower middle class lifestyle at the best. (Having ten children didn't help.)

Nowadays, a "professional musician" is usually solidly middle class, part of a two or more car family. Symphonic folks style themselves as better off still, and many of them are comfortable with shedding the union label. And now, we see the result.

However, the pendulum will swing back again, and when it does we will see what happens. In the olden days, the only recourse for the many against the few was revolution. The late unpleasantness in Egypt is an indication that such conduct may not be over in the "civilized world", even if it is occurring in the oldest "civilized" nation on the face of the planet. Collective bargaining is a decent substitute, but it doesn't come easy.
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#84
just this morning

'No' vote urged on DSO's final offer

Strikers urged by their negotiating committee to reject DSO's proposal

Michael H. Hodges / Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

The negotiating committee of the striking Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians recommended Thursday that its members vote
to reject what DSO officials have called their "final" offer.

The musicians will vote tonight and Saturday on the proposal, which the committee members say falls short on issues like salary and number of weeks worked.

Results of the vote will be announced Saturday afternoon. Voting tonight and tomorrow morning will be by Internet to accommodate the 15 or so musicians temporarily playing with other orchestras.

DSO officials had asked for a response by the end of Thursday, but said they'll give the musicians time before taking further action — which could well involve canceling the rest of the 2010-11 season.

"We're not going to take any action until their members have a chance to vote," said DSO spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt.

This would be the second time that a deadline for possibly canceling the rest of the season has been pushed off. The DSO board had said a settlement had to be in hand by 5 p.m. Feb. 11, but suspended that when talks began in earnest that evening with the help of four intermediaries.

Management and musicians have wrangled over how to allocate $34 million in orchestra pay and benefits, and an extra $2 million in opt-in community and educational activities.

The plan that's under consideration would cut first-year base salaries from $104,650 to somewhere in the low $80,000 range, though management has declined to give a precise figure.

At a news conference Thursday morning, musicians said the management offer fell far short of what they thought they'd all agreed on when the two sides met earlier in the evening.

"The mediators left at 10:30 Sunday night in the belief that the deal was done," said principal horn and negotiator Karl Pituch.

But three hours later, he said, management presented a plan musicians felt was markedly different from what had been discussed.

Executive vice-president Paul Hogle said the DSO would withhold comment until Saturday.

The musicians also identified the four mediators who tried to broker an agreement over the weekend: Sen. Carl Levin, his nephew Andy Levin, acting director of the Michigan Department of Energy
, Labor and Economic Growth; Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans; and Matthew Cullen, CEO of Rock Enterprises.


From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110218...vote-urged-on-DSO’s-final-offer#ixzz1EKdzpT88
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#85
just hope the bank doesn't take the last step to call on their note and seize the endowment, which is only half of the debt. Then they would seize orchestra hall to find out it's not worth as much as before, then all the other assets of the DSO.

I hope the musicians don't play chicken for too much longer.
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#86
Just looked at the musician website.

Question #1 ? How long will those representing the current members of the DSO jeopardize an entire concert season instead of accepting a total average per player compensation of $133,000 annually?
I'm glad they didn't publicize this. In this area with the economy the way it is it won't only go on deaf ears, but it may get a revolt against them considering how many auto and trade Union people had their pay cut in half (or eliminated alltogether in recent years).

I'm not sure if I misread that but the statement right below it was
Management's Real Offer $74,100 for current members$64,600 for new
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#87
It looks like the DSO musicians believe they can continue to negotiate mgt up in salary requirements whether or not the supportive money is there.

http://www.detnews.com/article/2011...king-musicians-vote-no-on-DSO’s-‘final-offer’

Last Updated: February 19. 2011 3:27PM
Striking musicians vote no on DSO's 'final offer'

Michael H. Hodges / Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Striking Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians voted today to turn down management's "final offer."

Today's developments come on the heels of last-minute bargaining that started the evening of Friday, Feb. 11, once a board-imposed deadline for a settlement passed. The board had instructed DSO officials to cancel the rest of the 2010-11 season at that point, but suspended that once talks began late Friday with the help of four big-name mediators: Sen. Carl Levin; his nephew Andy Levin, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Energy
, Labor & Economic Growth; Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert; and Rock Enterprise president Matt Cullen.

By the evening of Sunday, Feb. 13, the two sides were apparently close enough for the mediators to leave, after bringing them face to face for the first time in these latest negotiations, by far the most extensive since the strike began Oct. 4. Bargaining continued, off and on, through 4 a.m. Monday morning.

But despite the apparent progress, there followed a series of offers and counter-offers that each side appeared to find inadequate. Management made what it termed its final offer Tuesday evening, with a request that the musicians, as a body, vote by Thursday evening.

A union bylaw, however, required a 72-hour waiting period before a vote from the time they first received the offer (unless overridden by a supermajority of the members). Management said they'd hold off on any decisions about canceling the season until the vote was reported.

On Thursday, the players' negotiating committee recommended against accepting the proposal. Musicians began voting online — to accommodate 15-plus players who've taken temporary gigs at other orchestras — Friday at 7 p.m. The vote concluded today at 2 p.m.

For the past few weeks, management and musicians have wrangled over how to allocate $34 million in orchestra pay and benefits, as well as a particularly contentious $2 million in opt-in community outreach funding that would boost pay for those who sign on by $7,100.

The strike started back in October after management declared an impasse and implemented a 33 percent pay cut for current musicians, from $104,650 to $70,200 in the first year of the three-year contract. Musicians had offered a 22 percent cut to $82,000.

The two sides have now substantially narrowed the difference, with the DSO raising first-year pay by about $10,000 to the low $80,000s. They have yet, however, to give a specific number.

DSO executive vice-president Paul Hogle said earlier this week the DSO would withhold comment until today.

mhodges@detnews.com


From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110219...-vote-no-on-DSO’s-‘final-offer’#ixzz1ERJBYvr0
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#89
insight on musicians union

Last Updated: February 20. 2011 1:00AM
Is DSO season suspension the end?

Michael H. Hodges / Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

When the Detroit Symphony Orchestra suspended the rest of the 2010-2011 season Saturday, it set in motion events that some fear could spell doom for the 123-year-old ensemble, long regarded as one of the nation's very best.

The DSO board took this step after striking musicians rejected what management termed its final offer. While the DSO announcement held out the hope that part of the season could still be salvaged if a settlement were suddenly reached, the general outlook was bleak.

"Even though we were careful in using 'suspension'" rather than cancellation, said DSO executive vice-president Paul Hogle, "no one should misinterpret this as some tactic. The season is off. Artists have been released from pencil contracts. This is the end."

Musicians have long argued that suspension or cancellation, whatever you call it, was not necessarily a "nuclear option" that would torpedo the orchestra.

"There is a deal to be made if management would sit down with us and negotiate in good faith," said violinist and member of the negotiating committee Joe Goldman, "instead of issuing ultimatums and threats."
But outsiders warn that suspending the season involves a leap into the unknown, one that not only threatens the orchestra's current hold on audiences and donors, but could put the 2011-2012 season and the orchestra's entire future at risk.

"It plunges them into the black hole of a negative-revenue spiral," said Chicago-based orchestra consultant Drew McManus, who has followed the Detroit strike closely.

"The big question now is whether they've stopped planning for the next season," he added. "This one is a wash. But if they don't have all the season planning activity in place for next season, which would include artist reservations and advance ticket sales, they enter that negative spiral. Once you've crossed that event threshold, there's no pulling out of it."

Ordinarily, the DSO would be announcing that new season this month and selling advance tickets, a major source of revenue. But with no settlement in hand — and no orchestra — they can hardly sign contracts with guest conductors and soloists. With no new season to promote, they can't sell tickets.

There are cases where orchestras survived strikes that killed entire seasons, but they're not particularly hopeful. The Honolulu Symphony lost most of two seasons to a strike in the mid-1990s, according to John T. Bence, director of communications at the League of American Orchestras, but is now in bankruptcy.

Were the DSO strike never to settle, said Peter Pastreich, former executive director of the SanFrancisco
Symphony, it's possible musicians could organize a new ensemble, though he added that the track record in that regard isn't encouraging.

"DSO members won't all move to Cleveland or San Francisco," he said. "There aren't enough jobs to absorb them all." Like Denver and San Jose, players could try to form a cooperative orchestra on their own, sometimes with the aid of dissident board members, should any exist.

"But generally," Pastreich said, "the new orchestra is substantially diminished from the one that went out of business."

Hiring an entirely new orchestra isn't much of an option either. In the highly unionized world of top orchestras, McManus said, any musician taking a replacement job risks career suicide.

"They'd get blacklisted and probably fined by the American Federation of Musicians," he said, "and wouldn't be able to perform with other orchestras. It'd hurt their audition chances, too."

Hit hard like many cultural organizations by the downturn in corporate and individual giving after 2008, the DSO has struggled to keep its nose above water. The organization has been dipping into its small endowment — now at just $19 million from $56.8 million in 2008 — to cover annual deficits that last year reached $8.8 million.

It also owes $54 million in loans to a group of unhappy banks it needs to repay, and hopes to renegotiate. There again, however, renegotiation may be impossible without a contract.

Originally, management gave musicians two contract proposals. Proposal A, which expired in August, reduced wages $104,650 to $74,880 the first year rising to $79,950 in the third year and included 13 to 11 weeks of layoffs. Proposal B — imposed Oct. 4, the day the strike began — reduced wages from $104,650 to $70,200 in the first year, rising to $73,800 in the third year and included 16 weeks of layoffs all three years. Both offers required sweeping work-rule changes requiring greater community and educational outreachThe musicians, on the other hand, proposed wages of $82,000 in the first year rising to $96,600 the third year and six to 11 weeks of layoffs.

Both sides edged closer to one another in ensuing months, with management boosting its offer to $34 million over three years and the musicians lowering theirs to about $38.

On Dec. 16, Sen. Carl Levin and then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed a three-year total budget for orchestra costs of $36 million — $3 million more than the deficit-plagued orchestra said it could manage when the strike started, and some $3 million less than players initially demanded.
Once DSO officials accepted the general framework of the Granholm/Levin $36 million proposal last month, a settlement looked within reach.

But the additional $2 million that management threw into the pot was restricted to community and educational outreach work the players could opt in to, but didn't change their basic compensation package.

For the past couple weeks, the musicians have argued that at least a part of that $2 million should be carved off for their pay and benefits.

Management, however, insisted that the unnamed donors restricted its use to outreach.

"The price of peace has never been cheaper," said McManus. "For the low, low price of $2 million, you can determine the fate of the DSO. That's essentially what we're talking about."

mhodges@detnews.com


From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110220/ENT01/102200314/Is-DSO-season-suspension-the-end?#ixzz1EVNfqA6a
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#90
timeline of this entire ordeal

Last Updated: February 20. 2011 1:00AM
DSO strike timeline

The Detroit News

In 2009, as the economy turns down, the DSO reports a drop in ticket sales of more than 17 percent from 2008. Meanwhile, the declining stock market and a falloff in contributions force the orchestra to eat into its endowment, which progressively dwindles from a peak of nearly $100 million to less than $50 million.

In 2010, the orchestra faces economic crisis. Unable to make payments on its $54 million in bank loans for Orchestra Place and The Max, the DSO also reports cumulative budget deficits that have reached some $9 million in three years. The unrestricted portion of the endowment drops to $23 million.


Aug. 2010: As the musicians' contract nears its expiration, management asks for salary cuts of nearly 30 percent. The musicians' counter-proposal of cuts totaling about 21 percent is rejected.

Oct. 4, 2010: The musicians strike.

Nov. 24, 2010: In talks that broke down after one day, management increased its base offer by $1 million to $34 million in orchestra costs over three years. Musicians come down $1 million to $38 million.

Dec. 1, 2010: The orchestra's lenders repay the orchestra's bondholders and call a $54 million loan. The transaction, completed by a five-bank consortium that includes JPMorgan Chase, Comerica and BankofAmerica
, exchanges bonds set to mature in 2030 for debt controlled directly by the banks.

Dec. 16, 2010: After months of wrangling and vitriol, negotiations got a new spark when U.S. Senator Carl Levin and then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm propose a compromise totaling $36 million over three years — $2 million less than the musicians sought and $2 million more than management's latest offer. Musicians endorse the plan, but DSO board chairman Stanley Frankel rejects it, saying the orchestra cannot afford to raise its offer.

Jan. 21, 2011 : Management and musicians meet to discuss the Granholm-Levin proposal.

Jan. 27: The two sides grapple over the additional $2 million management has added to the pot. Management says it's a gift from donors who stipulated the money must be used for educational and outreach programs. The musicians insist part of the money be included in their base salary. Talks break down.

Feb. 10: Music director Leonard Slatkin ends his silence to express optimism that a settlement is near.

Feb. 11: The DSO board of directors set a deadline for a settlement of 5 p.m., or the remainder of the season will be scrapped. Indirect talks start up through big-name intermediaries: Sen. Carl Levin; his nephew Andy Levin, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth; Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert; and Rock Enterprise president Matt Cullen.

Sunday Feb. 13-Monday, Feb. 14: Mediators leave as musicians and management sit down for face-to-face negotiations run from Sunday night till almost 5 a.m. Monday morning in the Quicken Loans offices in the Compuware Building.

Wednesday, Feb. 16: Management provides the union with a final offer that it says must be accepted by close of business Feb. 17. A union bylaw, however, required a 72-hour waiting period before a vote from the time they first received the offer (unless overridden by a supermajority of the members). Management agrees to hold off decisions until the vote is reported.

Thursday, Feb. 17: The players' negotiating committee recommended against accepting the proposal.

Friday, Feb. 18: Musicians began voting online — to accommodate 15-plus players who've taken temporary gigs at other orchestras — at 7 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 19: The vote concluded at 2 p.m. By 3 p.m., the musicians announced they'd turned down management's final offer. A few minutes later, management announced that in light of that decision, musicians were being released from their contracts and all remaining orchestra concerts through June are suspended.


From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110220/ENT01/102200312/DSO-strike-timeline#ixzz1EVPERggY
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#91
newest info is that the musician union now is working with other unions such as the AFL-CIO to prevent any unionized industry to use the orchestra theater/max for a venue. Attempting to put pressure on the DSO mgt as they try to scramble for other revenue streams to stay out of insolvency.

I'm starting to hear that big sucking sound coming from the banks.

add to that the school system in detroit is going drastic ...
http://detnews.com/article/20110221/SCHOOLS/102210355
 
#92
newest info is that the musician union now is working with other unions such as the AFL-CIO to prevent any unionized industry to use the orchestra theater/max for a venue. Attempting to put pressure on the DSO mgt as they try to scramble for other revenue streams to stay out of insolvency.
Sounds like a plan.

1) Force chapter 7

2) ?????

3) Profit!

what could go wrong?
 

Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#93
Sounds like a plan.

1) Force chapter 7

2) ?????

3) Profit!

what could go wrong?
They're 2/3 there already!





just a couple small details...







What a great plan!!
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#94
newest info is that the musician union now is working with other unions such as the AFL-CIO to prevent any unionized industry to use the orchestra theater/max for a venue. Attempting to put pressure on the DSO mgt as they try to scramble for other revenue streams to stay out of insolvency.
Sounds like a plan.

1) Force chapter 7

2) ?????

3) Profit!

what could go wrong?
FWIW, this really is the way that I've seen unions operate. It does make sense, from a union perspective: musicians strike, but management says that they'll just rent out the building for something else and still profit. Teamsters union hears of it and says that they won't drive trucks to the building. THAT'S a problem for management. They can rent out the building for other things, but none of the "acts" can get there.

One of my many jobs had me working with unions. It was an informative job experience.
 
#95
FWIW, this really is the way that I've seen unions operate. It does make sense, from a union perspective: musicians strike, but management says that they'll just rent out the building for something else and still profit. Teamsters union hears of it and says that they won't drive trucks to the building. THAT'S a problem for management. They can rent out the building for other things, but none of the "acts" can get there.

One of my many jobs had me working with unions. It was an informative job experience.
I do understand that they would want to put the squeeze on DSO management like that as a tactic, but I don't see the reasoning in putting their Employer under.
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#96
The biggest problem with putting the employer under is that the bank captures all the cash and assets of the DSO. But then this allows the musicians to start their own Symphony from the ground up, including finding/buying/renting a venue, buying new equipment, new managment and all that goes with it.

For some reason I don't think the musicians have the funds to do that.
And I don't think the current board, who are all probably heavy donors, would bother.
 
#97
The biggest problem with putting the employer under is that the bank captures all the cash and assets of the DSO. But then this allows the musicians to start their own Symphony from the ground up, including finding/buying/renting a venue, buying new equipment, new managment and all that goes with it.

For some reason I don't think the musicians have the funds to do that.
And I don't think the current board, who are all probably heavy donors, would bother.
I don't think that's the plan at all. Like I said before, I think the Union is way over their heads in the business aspects of this and as such would be unable to cognitively develop any plan addressing the complexities of starting a 'business' where two thirds or more of your revanue would require to be donated to you by philanthropy.

Furthermore, you correctly note that many large donors sit within the ranks of DSO Board. I too would be surprised if their willingness to donate would continue as freely with a new Union formed organization after being vilified so ardently by the musicians. And who would the Union blame for failures of this new organization when they are the owners?

I don't think there is a plan apart from runaway entitlement and misplaced vanity. all their arguments point to a sheer misunderstanding about money and their place in the world. They are divas without an audience.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#98
But, all of these arguments dance around the real truth, that being that there is not an audience with enough money to support such an organization where the employees are being paid anything approaching a decent wage and benefit package. Offer what is viable and you'll have quality folks bailing - the "greedy musician" appellation only goes so far, as all of them have obligations that they incurred when they were being paid a decent wage.

The debt already run up (under a legitimate and fully negotiated arrangement - no one held a gun to either side's head, although the musicians did have a "gun at their head" in that they have to earn a living wage) was not incurred in the last year, or ten years, or perhaps twenty years. The endowment was bled down over a good long period, as costs (in addition to wages were rising.

It's a long term problem for all of these groups (the shrinking audience), and until tastes change they are all going to suffer to one extent or another.
 
#99
But, all of these arguments dance around the real truth, that being that there is not an audience with enough money to support such an organization where the employees are being paid anything approaching a decent wage and benefit package. Offer what is viable and you'll have quality folks bailing - the "greedy musician" appellation only goes so far, as all of them have obligations that they incurred when they were being paid a decent wage.
I agree that the reason the DSO is where it's at is all about the audience, or lack thereof. I intended that as a given. What I was talking about is the will-motivation-and competence of the Musician's to organize themselves into an actual business, regardless of what they could pay.

I've never actually used the word "Greed" to describe the musicians as it's a word I rarely use and a notion that is almost universally inapt. Most often, it's a pejorative given by hippocrit ne'erdowells who want to vilify someone else who like they, just want to get as much out of what they do as possible.

I don't accuse the musicians of being greedy, but given their arguments I do think them vain, dogmatic, and stupid. I'm quite happy for them that they were able to once garner 100k salaries, but those days are possibly over.

The debt already run up (under a legitimate and fully negotiated arrangement - no one held a gun to either side's head, although the musicians did have a "gun at their head" in that they have to earn a living wage) was not incurred in the last year, or ten years, or perhaps twenty years. The endowment was bled down over a good long period, as costs (in addition to wages were rising.

It's a long term problem for all of these groups (the shrinking audience), and until tastes change they are all going to suffer to one extent or another.
Yes indeed.
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
here's an interesting writeup
http://www.wsws.org/mobile/articles/2011/feb2011/dsos-f16.shtml
World Socialist Web Site
Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International

« Back to front page
Detroit News continues its slanders against Detroit Symphony musicians

By Shannon Jones
16 February 2011


A February 15 piece by op-ed columnist Robert Laurie appearing in the Detroit News online edition contains a vicious rant against striking musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, who are entering the 20th week of a strike against management demands for massive concessions.
The piece is merely the latest, although perhaps the foulest and most ignorant, attack on the musicians by the News which has parroted the line of the DSO board throughout the strike.

Facing declining ticket sales and falling private contributions, orchestra management imposed drastic cuts last October, including a 33 percent reduction in pay, 42 percent for new musicians and takeaways from pensions and health benefits. It also imposed changes in work rules that would transform the DSO into essentially a part-time orchestra with musicians forced to engage in all sorts of non-performance related duties.
The musicians union offered to take a 22 percent pay cut, which it has since said it is willing to increase, with a partial restoration in the third year. Musicians say the deep cuts demanded by management would do irreparable harm to the DSO, which has a well-deserved reputation as one of America’s leading orchestras.

Negotiations are continuing past a management-imposed February 11 deadline for a decision on the cancellation of the balance of the 2010-11 concert season. While the DSO board has apparently agreed to increase slightly its pay offer, many issues remain outstanding, including management’s demand for drastic work rule changes.

In his piece, entitled “Union greed: from the UAW to DSO,” Laurie cites the deep poverty of Detroit—close to 50 percent real unemployment, an annual per capita income of just $15,000 a year for those who are employed—to argue that musicians should gratefully accept whatever management offers.

“It’s not as if the average Detroiter will die if they don't hear Tchaikovsky’s Winter Daydreams as the first snow flies,” writes Laurie.

“They’re more concerned with keeping the heat on.”

Later Laurie talks of DSO management confronting the “greed” and “entitlement mentality” of musicians.

To claim that the struggle to maintain a halfway decent level of compensation is an example of “greed” is absurd. The conditions in Detroit are horrific, but in what way are musicians responsible? The city is facing the impact of decades of downsizing and cost cutting by the auto industry, which after pocketing billions of dollars in profits off the sweat and blood of auto workers, has abandoned the city.

In any event, does Laurie have a difficulty keeping his heat on? Is he a champion of the low-paid and the poor? Hardly. He is an ultra-right, anti-communist fanatic. One of his fellow contributors at Biggovernment.com is Michael Walsh, who helped initiate the attack on the DSO musicians at a June 2009 board meeting, where he called for a complete remodeling of the orchestra in light of the economic crisis. Laurie’s diatribe will be dismissed with contempt by anyone aware of American political and social reality.

Musicians, like the vast majority of the working population, face the impact of Detroit’s decay, a product of the capitalist profit system, an irrational social order that subordinates the needs of society to the interests of a handful of billionaires.

Laurie, a reactionary philistine, cannot conceal his indifference to the fate of the DSO. Enormous damage has already been done to the orchestra, perhaps irreparable damage. The fact is the destruction of the DSO would be a serious blow to art and culture, not just in Detroit but nationally and internationally. There is no doubt that the concessions imposed on DSO musicians will be copied by other major orchestras.

An annual salary of $100,000 a year does not sound like an awful lot when you compare it to the multi-billion bonuses regularly pocketed by investment bankers, yet there is no suggestion by Laurie that they should be asked to sacrifice. The DSO musicians are highly trained and talented professionals, drawn from all over the world. Many started playing at a young age. Their contribution to society is infinitely greater than that of a hedge fund manager, commodity trader … or right-wing blogger.

The claim that there is no money for a major symphony orchestra in Detroit or for that matter jobs and decent wages for workers is patently false. The corporate elite in Michigan are wealthier than ever. The Detroit suburb or Bloomfield Hills is the fourth wealthiest city in the United States. Nine Michigan residents made the Forbes list of the worlds 400 richest billionaires in 2010. Just one of those billionaires, Amway founder Richard DeVos, has a net worth of $4.5 billion, more than 25 times the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Many of those on the DSO board of directors are themselves multi-millionaires. Jim Nicholson, former DSO board president, is chairman and CEO of PVS Chemicals with annual sales of $45 million. Other executives on the DSO board include former GM president Lloyd E. Reuss and former Masco Corporation vice president and current DTE Energy board member Lillian Bauder. In 2009 Bauder received $163,914 in director’s fess and stock awards from DTE and $174,212 in 2008. During the same period DTE Energy imposed sharp rate increases while disconnecting service to hundreds of thousands of homes in southeast Michigan.

These individuals could pay for the DSO budget deficit out of their pockets.

The title of Laurie’s piece creates the impression that the UAW and other unions are backing the DSO musicians. That is hardly the case. The unions long ago abandoned any struggle in defense of workers. None of the major union bodies in the area—the UAW, the Detroit Metro AFL-CIO, the Teamsters—has lifted a finger in defense of the musicians.

Contrary to the claim of Laurie that no one in Detroit is interested in the fate of the DSO, striking musicians have received an appreciative response from the public at the well-attended support concerts they have organized throughout the area, including at Detroit homeless shelters. Musicians across the United States and internationally have donated generously to support their struggle.

The strike by DSO musicians deserves the sympathy and support of all working people. The World Socialist Web Site calls on musicians to reject all suggestion that they should shoulder the responsibility for the crisis of the DSO must take and continue to turn out to mobilize the widest support for their struggle.
 
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