Detroit Symphony: A Very Public Union Fight

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October 22, 2010; Source: Crain’s Detroit Business | A very public dispute is being played out between the management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and its world-class musicians. The musicians have been on strike since October 4 after their contract expired and management turned down the musician’s offer to take a 22 percent salary cut.

After the strike was called, management immediately imposed its originally offered contract terms: a 33 percent cut in guaranteed base salaries and a starting salary for new players that was 42 percent less than the current guaranteed base of $104,650. There are also cutbacks in pension and health benefits.

This is all being played out quite publicly on the musician union’s website. While Crain’s story is purportedly about the fact that a few donors have posted letters declaring their unwillingness to donate again based on management’s behavior in demanding a steep cut in the salaries of the musicians, the website is interesting for other reasons in that it shows how a contentious issue in a public institution can now be portrayed without any modifying influences – allowing critical “outside” stakeholders such as donors to make decisions.

Meanwhile the striking musicians are making music elsewhere in a bid to make their value to Detroit clear. WADL-TV in Detroit intends to broadcast a concert planned for Christ Church Cranbrook on Sunday. Station manager Steve Antoniotti said: “We’re merely trying to expose the quality of these musicians to people who haven’t had the opportunity to hear them, and to show what a community asset might be lost in this labor dispute.”

WADL agreed to pick up the broadcast costs if the musicians would waive their performance fees. The musicians are planning at least two additional concerts. The Symphony meanwhile has expressed its displeasure over the WADL broadcast on October 24th with a letter from its lawyer.—Ruth McCambridge