WCO Management Hit With NLRB Complaint

October 23, 2008 at 11:00 am | Posted in Press Release | Leave a comment

Oct. 23, 2008

Contact: Todd Jelen
email: tj7118@yahoo.com

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Management Hit With NLRB Complaint

The strike impacting the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra took a legal turn Tuesday as the group’s musicians socked the organization with an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

The strike, which began Oct. 1 over largely non-economic provisions, has already canceled several of the ensemble’s performances.

The NLRB complaint centers on how management presented their October 20th contract offer and how they have retaliated against orchestra members by their cancellation of performances. The management offer indicated that if the terms of its new offer were not accepted as stated, and if a continuing work stoppage caused the cancellation of any of November’s scheduled rehearsals or performances, future offers would be regressive.

The musicians assert that this meets the NLRB’s definition of bad faith bargaining. The musicians’ legal counsel indicated that using the threat of future regressive proposals in order to impose the current proposal is generally viewed as bad faith bargaining.

The strike, which has seemed close to resolution during the past two weeks, mostly concerns job security and work rules appropriate for a part-time ensemble such as the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

For instance, a major sticking point has been the board’s demand to greatly expand its capacity to terminate any musician for any reason, rejecting the necessity to prove “just cause” when firing a player. Additionally, management wants to make overnight tours mandatory for WCO musicians, thereby putting in jeopardy the musicians’ other employment.

The strike came after eight months of negotiations failed to make progress on these issues. The NLRB complaint was sent to the federal agency’s Milwaukee regional office.


Letter from AFM President Thomas Lee

October 23, 2008 at 10:49 am | Posted in Support | Leave a comment

AFM President Thomas Lee

AFM President Thomas F. Lee

October 17, 2008

Doug Gerhart, Executive Director
Thomas Grantham, Chairperson
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
321 East Main Street
P.O. Box 171
Madison, WI 53703-0171

Dear Mr. Gerhart and Mr. Grantham:

On behalf of the tens of thousands of members of the American Federation of Musicians, I am writing to urge the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Board to reconsider the approach that it has taken with the WCO musicians and to come to a reasonable accord on a new contract.

The WCO musicians have developed a reputation of having a strong commitment to the WCO, its audience, and the community at large. These highly skilled musicians are among the best in the region, yet their wages are extremely humble at only $10,000-$15,000 a year.

Given this reality, it is distressing to see the WCO insist on attendance requirements that would make it impossible for these musicians to fulfill their other employment obligations. It is the norm for orchestras in the rest of the country to provide the flexibility for musicians to make a living from multiple employers. Those orchestras understand that musicians need that additional income to survive.

This is just one of the issues in contention but is the one that has the most potentially devastating impact on the musicians. These musicians have long enjoyed a terrific relationship with management and are some of the most dedicated symphony musicians in the world. they are reasonable and are willing to reach an agreement that is fair to all parties; however, their right to earn additional income so that they can provide for themselves and their families must not be infringed upon.


Thomas F. Lee

Letter from ICSOM Chairman Bruce Ridge

October 23, 2008 at 10:48 am | Posted in Support | Leave a comment

Bruce Ridge

Bruce Ridge

Mr. Doug Gerhart, Executive Director
Mr. Thomas Grantham, Board Chairperson
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

Bruce Ridge,
Chair, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)

October 12, 2008

Dear Mr. Gerhart and Mr. Grantham:

The musicians of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and indeed artists all across the country have been following the recent events that surround the negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO).

The musicians of the WCO have the absolute support of musicians across the country. It is critically important that you, as stewards of the community, quickly reach an agreement that will allow the WCO to return to the stage and to its mission of community service. Your musicians’ positions are reasonable and industry standard, and offer the best hope for a strong future.

The WCO is a great jewel for the city of Madison, and business leaders and artists across America will be closely monitoring the situation.

Studies have shown that the economic impact of the arts industry in Wisconsin surpasses $418 million and provides over 15,000 jobs. Wisconsin’s Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton has been quoted as saying: “Across Wisconsin, the arts and culture industry does mean business. Investment in the arts is just that—an investment in organizations that generate revenue and employ thousands, and an investment in the vitality of a community. Investment in the arts is capital ventured to intensify an area’s magnetic pull for new economic opportunity.”

Along with my 4,000 colleagues in ICSOM orchestras, I ask you to invest in your community and the future of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra by positively addressing the concerns of the musicians. I urge you to agree to the terms requested by the musicians. By agreeing to the these reasonable requests, you can ensure the bright future for the WCO that the citizens of Madison desire and deserve.

Bruce Ridge
Chairman, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)

The Truth About Our Negotiations

October 21, 2008 at 9:15 am | Posted in Informational | 1 Comment

The musicians of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra remain on strike! Our work stoppage began October 1; since then, management has issued two press releases and two letters to the musicians. In them, management claimed to have been cooperative in negotiations (saying they have moved on many items) and surprised and disappointed by the move of the musicians. We find the distortions and inaccuracies in these documents to be entirely unacceptable. It is time to tell our side of the story. Continue Reading The Truth About Our Negotiations…

Join our Audience Association!

October 20, 2008 at 2:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If you’d like to help support us, please join our Audience Association!  It’s a great way to stay informed and to help the musicians in their campaign to get a fair contract.  To join, simply send your name, phone number, and email address to:

Nancy Mackenzie at mnmk0577@tds.net.

This information is also available on our How to Help page. Thanks for your support!

WCO Management Announces Early Halloween Trick

October 14, 2008 at 10:22 pm | Posted in Press Release | Leave a comment

Oct. 15, 2008

Contact: Todd Jelen
email: tj7118@yahoo.com

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Management Announces Early Halloween Trick

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s management presented Madison’s kids with an
early Halloween trick, inexplicably canceling a Halloween concert that the group’s
musicians seemed willing to perform.

Until Tuesday, the WCO’s musicians thought they were close to a fundamental
agreement on the three major issues that had led to a strike Oct. 1. However, the
management surprised musicians by canceling an Oct. 24 Halloween concert, citing the
musicians’ refusal to commit to play the concert.

“I have no earthly idea where this is coming from,” said Todd Jelen, the musicians’
negotiating committee chairperson. Jelen indicated that Thursday’s discussions had
moved closer on critical issues, and that the two sides had made enough progress on the
remaining stumbling blocks to resume performances while continuing to negotiate.

“We were this close to an agreement on the job security, electronic media and attendance
clauses that caused the strike,” Jelen said. “We were confident we would be back to
work soon, because our managers asked the musicians to develop formal language, not
only on the three important issues, but also to convert a whole bunch of secondary
provisions into writing that we had been willing to postpone to get back to work.”

“We don’t understand why our managers couldn’t have responded to our proposals on the
three critical matters in the last four days so the orchestra could get back to work,” Jelen
said. “At this point, they’ve got complete language not only on the three central issues,
but on all proposals, so the ball is in their court. To cancel a concert and blame us…I just
don’t see their reasoning on this one.”

The baffling concert cancellation came after eight months of negotiations failed to find
solutions to the problems separating the two sides.

Beethoven on strike

October 4, 2008 at 12:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Last night’s free performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 reminds us of the enduring ability music has to bring people together. The musicians, who were on the picket line just minutes before, took their places at 9:00 pm to give an inspiring performance of this masterwork. Emotions ran high as did the quality of the performance which was met with raucous applause from an audience of nearly 300. Although the piece had been announced as a four movement work, that didn’t stop the concert goers from showing their approval after every movement, with a generous standing ovation at the finish. The evening ended with a poignant note from the principal oboist, Naomi Bensdorf Frisch: “We are so proud to be a part of the Madison arts community and we hope we are back where we belong very soon.”

This performance was put together with only two days notice because of the immediate efforts of a few WCO musicians who volunteered to find a venue, borrow the sheet music, and gather the needed equipment (timpani, chairs, music stands). Madison’s Bethel Lutheran Church was warm and inviting, not only in offering the ensemble a place to perform but also providing volunteers to help set up. The musicians extend their deepest gratitude for all of the support.

WCO Musicians Present Free Concert

October 2, 2008 at 9:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Although currently on strike we still intend to accomplish what we gathered this week to do. The musicians of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will present a free concert Friday night (10/3/08) at 9 p.m. at Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave.

We will be performing Beethoven’s Second Symphony. All are welcome and invited. We appreciate the support of the community in these troubled times.


October 1, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment




The musicians of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra have a deep commitment to the WCO, and in particular to you, our most loyal audience. Our wages and benefits are meager – only $10,000 – $15,000 per year – but our dedication to music in the Madison community is large. For years we’ve had a positive and respectful relationship with management, and we’ve always resolved our contract negotiations without incident.

What’s different this time? The Board’s outside negotiators are insisting on extreme positions that would put Madison out of the mainstream:

  • Work rules that would make it impossible for WCO musicians to fulfill their obligations to the WCO and to their music students, teaching jobs or other music endeavors. All over the country, orchestras like the WCO have rules that allow their musicians to patch together a living by adding income streams from teaching and other engagements to their small orchestra salaries. Why won’t WCO do the same?
  • Travel reimbursements far, far below industry norms.
  • Refusing to implement a fair system of peer review on musical performance – systems that are accepted throughout the nation in large and small orchestras.

We have, in good faith, tried every known method to reach an accord with the WCO on these and other issues, and we believe that our Executive Director, Doug Gerhart has done likewise. We do not understand why the Board of the WCO has, in our opinion, allowed the outside firm of Foley & Lardner to create obstacles to agreement, to force WCO out of the mainstream, and to jeopardize the once-excellent relationship between the musicians and management.

It is our desire to resolve this dispute and to get back to performing for you, our loyal audience. You can help us with our situation; please write Executive Director Doug Gerhart at douggerhart@wcoconcerts.org, WCO Board Chairperson Thomas Grantham thomas_grantham@ml.com, or Immediate past WCO Board Chairperson Sarah Reiter at sreiter@brownhousedesigns.com and urge them to come to a reasonable accord on a new contract with the WCO musicians.

Thank you for your continued support of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its musicians!

The Musicians of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

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