December 20, 2015; New Britain Herald

In these days of at your convenience digital communication, you’d think nonprofits wouldn’t just repeat each other’s publicly failed strategies but learn from them instead. Why, then, are we looking at the Hartford Symphony Orchestra threatening its musicians with a shutdown if they do not accede to a 30 percent pay cut? Those labor negotiations have been in negotiation for almost a year.

NPQ readers may remember this general scenario from numerous performing arts organizations, including the Minnesota Orchestra, the Met in New York City, and others. In each case, the position of the organization was that musicians’ salaries were at fault for their financial frailty and that they were willing and ready to shut down or lock out the musicians to drive the point home. In each case, the solutions were more complex and involved significant concessions on the part of the administration. Does Hartford really need to go through this now too-familiar dance routine, following what seems like a mandatory script?

Jeff Verney, chairman of the board of directors, says their “angel donors” want to see more balance and sustainability in the budget before they reinvest. The organization is running annual deficits of more than $1.3 million and has fully drawn down its line of credit for $2 million despite the fact that it cut 26 percent from its operating budget over the past seven years, to $4.8 million from $6.5 million.

“If we don’t solve our financial crisis with a long-term solution by the end of January, we’ll have to make difficult decisions, all of which are unpalatable, including shutting down immediately,” said Stephen Collins, director of artistic operations and administration at the symphony.

The symphony, of course, blames the union—the American Federation of Musicians—for the lack of contract progress while the union claims that the symphony has been unwilling to share the necessary information to allow those talks to progress.

Michael Pollard, a member of the American Federation of Musicians’ negotiating committee, says the symphony wants to balance the books on the backs of its musicians. “We’re willing to be part of the solution, but we’re not willing to be the solution,” Pollard said.—Ruth McCambridge