WCO Action Elicits NLRB ComplaintJanuary 30, 2009 at 9:42 pm | Posted in Press Release | 1 Comment
January 29, 2009
The long negotiations of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its musicians hit a major stumbling block Thursday. That’s when the talks turned from fine-tuning the last few minor contract details, to the musicians deciding to file a federal unfair labor practice charge against the orchestra’s management.
Until Monday, the WCO’s musicians thought they were close to a fundamental agreement on the final remaining issues that led to an Oct. 1 strike. The major non-economic proposals originally separating the two sides, such as required musician attendance and dismissal procedures, had been resolved. The remaining divisive issues were minor, such as instrument insurance during tours and the commencement of the modest salary increases. Previous talks had resulted in what Todd Jelen, the musicians’ negotiating committee chairperson, termed as productive exchanges between management and the musicians, but suddenly the tone of negotiations changed, as management seemed unwilling to compromise on the outstanding issues.
On January 21st the musicians’ negotiating committee polled the WCO’s rank-and-file on the two remaining issues, which the WCO had been unwilling to accept any compromise. The musicians rejected management’s position on those issues. WCO Executive Director Doug Gerhart answered Monday by withdrawing an unspecified number of previously resolved contract terms, and setting a January 30th deadline for an “unqualified assurance” that the musicians would play the February 27th Masterworks concert.
According to the American Federation of Musicians, this constitutes an unfair labor practice. The management’s action requiring the musicians to guarantee services before a binding contract has been signed also strips the union’s legal right to strike as a counterbalance to the employer’s power.
“This is a very frustrating time for the musicians,” Jelen said. “We’ve been negotiating for nearly a year, and have worked with management’s lawyers, and without their lawyers; with federal mediators and without mediators, trying to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
“The Jan. 21 poll was a simple declaration of our rank and file’s sentiment on these final contract terms and their desire for compromise,” Jelen said. “For the WCO to think that it can arbitrarily abolish workers elemental right to voice what they believe, and to use the musicians’ right to union democracy as an excuse to punish them – that’s fundamentally unfair.”
According to Jelen, the unfair labor practice charge was filed with the National Labor Relations Board in Milwaukee this past Thursday.