Last-est, Best-est, Final-isist

March 26, 2009 at 10:34 am | Posted in Press Release | Leave a comment

March 26, 2009 Contact: Todd Jelen

MEDIA ADVISORY Phone: 216-314-2000

Last-est, Best-est, Final-isist

Offer for Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra??

  • What: WCO musicians picket WCO offices and march to Capitol to protest Board tactics in year-long contract negotiations
  • When: Friday, March 27
    Informational picketing at WCO offices, 321 E. Main Street , 3 p.m.
    March to Capitol at 4:15 p.m.; at Capitol 4:30-5:30 p.m.
  • Why: Sharing information about multiple NLRB complaints, all of which constrict Union rights to be equal partners in negotiations


Appropriate superlatives are becoming harder to find to describe the year-long negotiations between the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra musicians and management.

That’s never been more apparent than when the board’s March 23 “last, best and final” offer included threats of a worse contract offer if the musicians did not sign this last, best and final offer before April 24. The WCO board, which already has a substantial unfair labor practice action pending before the National Labor Relations Board, may have at least one more complaint as a result of their action.

The musicians haven’t been able to get an acceptable rationale for the board’s ultimatum. “This is just game playing,” said musician spokesperson Todd Jelen. “According to our legal counsel, the words ‘last, best and final’ means exactly what they say – last, best and final. Management cannot present a last, best and final offer, and threaten that the musicians will only make it worse for themselves if they don’t sign it.”

According to Jelen, this action will join a list of unfair bargaining tactics the union has filed against the orchestra’s board with the NLRB’s Milwaukee office. The case asserts that the WCO, by taking away previously negotiated contract terms, is punishing workers for standing up for themselves at the bargaining table.

The March 23 offer from the WCO board stated that “If the proposal is not accepted by April 24, 2009, Employer believes that the plans for its 2009 Summer Concerts on the Square Program might be affected and, therefore, reserves the right to modify its proposal, including the right to withdraw and change items in this proposal.” The musicians’ legal counsel indicated the March 23 offer is also suspect in that the WCO is seeking to extend the term of the new contract from the previously agreed Aug. 31, 2013; to Aug. 31, 2014. This would knowingly violate an American Federation of Musicians’ provision requiring that contracts that extend more than five years need to be approved not only by the local musicians but by the AFM International Executive Board.

Jelen said the two sides have several times been 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 language concerning recordings and dismissal procedures, had been resolved.

However, when a Jan. 21 musician poll turned down management’s position on the two remaining minor issues, WCO executive director Doug Gerhart, under counsel from WCO’s board, withdrew a number of previously agreed upon contract terms. “We were later told that even if we had accepted their conditions in January that the board would not have ratified the contract” Jelen said. “We have kept our musicians informed each step of the way; for the board to renege on what was negotiated in good faith with Doug is not only inexcusable, it’s illegal.”

“We are used to management and the board abusing their authority and bullying us, but to cancel concerts instead of negotiating in good faith is irresponsible” Jelen continues. “Given their track record of canceling concerts rather then negotiating fairly, I wouldn’t put it past them to cancel Concerts on the Square just for spite. The citizens of Madison deserve better.”


Management Retaliates Against Musicians

February 27, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Posted in Press Release | Leave a comment

Feb. 27, 2009 Contact: Todd Jelen

NEWS RELEASE Phone: 216-314-2000

WCO Management is Retaliating

Against Musicians for Standing up for Their Legal Rights

One step forward and ten steps back.

That seems to be the trajectory of the long negotiations between the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its musicians on Thursday after management’s negotiators reneged on previously agreed-upon provisions and submitted new proposals on mileage rates and guaranteed work that are less than even the last contract.

The strikingly altered proposals made it necessary for the union to take the new provisions back to the orchestra’s rank and file Thursday night. “Since this new proposal could significantly affect musicians’ ability to survive, we felt it was necessary and prudent to consult the musicians before responding,” said Todd Jelen, musicians’ negotiating committee member. “Although they accused us of being unwilling to bargain, the negotiating committee can’t respond to such drastic changes without consulting our members.”

Now, instead of 75 guaranteed services, the board’s new contract proposal slashes those services, and the musicians’ guaranteed salary, by 40 percent. Those guaranteed services could drop 60 percent if the board gives the musicians only six months notice. Local 166 of the American Federation of Musicians is planning to file amended charges of retaliatory bargaining and bad-faith bargaining against the WCO’s board.

Continue Reading Management Retaliates Against Musicians…

WCO Action Elicits NLRB Complaint

January 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.

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

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.

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

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.

9/26/08 Press Release

September 29, 2008 at 5:08 pm | Posted in Press Release | Leave a comment

Sept. 26, 2008 Contact: Todd Jelen


Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

May Mark Season Start with a Strike

Madison may soon get an unwanted first — its first orchestra strike.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its musicians have undertaken 11 meetings during nine months of talks. The musicians have met the board’s negotiators with lawyers, and without lawyers. They have met with a federal mediator present. However, because few of the foundational issues impacting the negotiations have been addressed, the group’s first 2008 Masterworks concert, scheduled for Oct. 3, may be the first WCO concert ever canceled by a strike.

Continue Reading 9/26/08 Press Release…

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