Category Archives: Labor Disputes

Now It’s Really Over

Yesterday I got a call from Minnesota Orchestra bass player Kathryn Nettleman. (Well, Kate Nettleman. It feels weird to call our Kate “Kathryn.”) She wanted to make sure I heard about the big news.

The Minnesota Orchestra has had a lot of big news lately. In January 2014, the sixteen-month lockout of musicians ended. The CEO and board chair departed. Former music director Osmo Vänskä, who had resigned during the lockout, was re-hired. He married concertmaster Erin Keefe, who had been a leading candidate for the New York Philharmonic concertmaster seat. She decided to stay in Minnesota. The organization hired a new temporary CEO, Kevin Smith, who quickly became a long-term CEO. Recording sessions started up again. The third disc in the Grammy-winning Sibelius cycle was finished, and we’re waiting on the release date now. There was a trip to Cuba, planned and executed in record time. Then within a few days of the orchestra’s return to America, it was announced that musician contracts had been negotiated two years ahead of schedule (with modest raises), and that Osmo himself had signed on until at least 2019. Major multi-million dollar gifts were announced. The organization just posted its first surplus in a while (using a prudent endowment draw rate, no less).

If you take a step back, you realize what a veritable barrage of good news there has been here lately. Apparently we’re living in an era of sparkly unicorn rainbows. Thanks to a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect, the Minnesota Orchestra is proving that it is an organization on the move.

But Kate was calling me with even more big news to share. I didn’t know what to expect. Some kind of series devoted to the history of women in music? The construction of the Kevin Smith Room within Orchestra Hall, from which Kevin is never allowed to leave? (He would be fed well.) The first orchestra tour to the moon? After the past two years, nothing seems impossible.

As she spoke, I realized that one vestige of the lockout still remains: the musicians’ independent 501c3. This was the organization that the musicians used to self-produce concerts during the lockout.

“We’re dissolving it,” Kate said.

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What Ever Happened to Michael Henson?

“What ever happened to Michael Henson?”

I’ve been asked this question countless times. I’ve been asked this question loudly, quietly, surreptitiously, obviously, outside of concert halls, inside of concert halls, in moving cars, in non-moving cars, and, most recently, in the lobby of the Madison Concourse Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, during a personal vacation that was not Minnesota Orchestra related whatsoever.

I’ve always been vague because I didn’t know the answer ( “um, consulting work…I guess”). (And the Pulitzer for best investigative blogging goes to…) But as long as I’m happy with the direction in which the Minnesota Orchestra is going, and I am, I don’t really care what its former leader is up to. Yes, the question of his whereabouts is interesting to think about in the abstract, but any answer you might uncover has little practical use. If bread is square, why is sandwich meat round? That’s an interesting question, too. But it only does you so much good to think about it.

That said, some new intelligence recently landed in my lap in the form of Michael Henson’s LinkedIn profile.

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Hartford Symphony Hornbook

It strikes me I should just automate my autumn blog entries using a contract dispute MadLib.

[NAME], the CEO of the [CITY OR STATE NAME] Orchestra, has recently threatened [ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER] percentage cuts in musician compensation, because of [THE ECONOMY / “THE NEW MODEL” / A LACK OF SUSTAINABILITY]. In his role as CEO, he earns [ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER EXPONENTIALLY HIGHER THAN PREVIOUS ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER] every year, and yet has puzzlingly few symphonic accomplishments to show for it. In the run-up to the dispute, [CEO NAME] has given public indications that he is more interested in the [NAME OF HALL THE ORCHESTRA PLAYS IN or PARENT ORGANIZATION THE ORCHESTRA HAS BEEN ABSORBED INTO] than in the [CITY OR STATE NAME] Orchestra, and also has an undeniable weakness for pops shows. [INSENSITIVE QUOTE DEMONSTRATING A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE ISSUES]

In 2012 (…and 2013…), the star of the MadLib was the Minnesota Orchestra’s Michael Henson. In 2014, we all enjoyed the antics of Atlanta Symphony President Dr. Stanley Romanstein, Ph.D. (Both have since moved on from their respective organizations.) Now American orchestra lovers have a new name to learn: David Fay is the man in charge of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, as well as the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

The Hartford Symphony, however, is a more….recent acquisition.

*ominous thunderclap in distance*

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Bad News, Good News

In case you missed the news, the Minnesota Orchestral Association has promoted Kevin Smith from Interim CEO to Actual CEO. He’s staying until the end of the 2017-2018 season (at least), and he will be negotiating both Osmo’s and the musicians’ new contracts. The board voted unanimously to keep him.

I haven’t met Mr. Smith yet, but nearly all of my musical friends have, and I’ve heard nothing but good about him. A few things are abundantly clear. He knows what he’s doing. He knows the Twin Cities. He has years of experience under his belt. And, perhaps most importantly of all, he listens. Stakeholders respect this man. When he has to make the tough decisions that lie ahead, I may not always agree with his choices, but I will respect them, and I will know that he is working for the good of the organization and the art form and the community. You can’t buy that kind of trust.

In fact, if I had to choose what’s the bigger news, Osmo’s rehiring or Kevin’s promotion… I’d probably go with Kevin’s promotion. And you all know how thrilled I was that Osmo was re-hired. So you can guess how excited I am about Kevin.

But wait. As the infomercials say, there’s more. In an interview the other night on Almanac, when asked if Osmo’s contract would be renewed, Smith said:

We are talking about that. I would hope and expect, yes.

I would hope and expect, yes.

I would hope and expect, yes.

I-Would-Hope-And-Expect

The phrase “I would hope and expect, yes” in a pretty font and decorated with my excited yellow Rays of Yay

 

It’s a tribute to how far we’ve come that this quote isn’t plastered all over blogs and Twitter and Facebook and Strib articles.

I think most people would agree that

  1. the chances of a second lockout have declined precipitously
  2. we just might be looking at a fair musicians’ contract extending until approximately 2020, and
  3. the Osmo era is likely going to continue.

It’s looking like the Minnesota Orchestral Association has entered its own Era of Good Feelings. And I’m on board with that.

So it might be time to bid a fond farewell to the Song of the Lark Outrage Machine. The Outrage Machine ran fast and hard for a very long time, fueled by the spittle from my flail-y freak-outs and the sarcasm of animated GIFs. But between Kevin Smith’s hiring and the Atlanta Symphony lockout ending, it looks like outrage is going out of style. Which is great.

It’s just too bad I can’t take the Outrage Machine out for a final spin to commemorate old times and old scandals.

Unless…

Somehow… somewhere… some news could break about the Era of Bad Feelings.

But, no. That’s impossible. Michael Henson has been gone from the Minnesota Orchestra for months now. His vision – or maybe that’s “myopia” – has been thoroughly repudiated by all. Surely there’s no new news left about his tenure…

990s

I’m sorry, guidestar.org, the website that “gather[s] and disseminate[s] information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit organization“…did you say something?

990s

Oh? What’s this? The 990 form for the Minnesota Orchestral Association covering the time span of September 2012 to August 2013, which features only one non-lockout month?

Do you hear that roar in the distance? I think it’s the outrage machine revving up for one last final outing! So jump aboard now, for one last ride, for nostalgia’s sake…

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Top 10 Similarities Between The Atlanta and Minnesota Lockouts

In case you didn’t know it yet, the Minnesota Orchestra lockout and the Atlanta Symphony lockout are following eerily parallel courses.

Some of the Minnesota folks likely aren’t following the ins and outs of the Atlanta story, while some of the Atlanta folks probably don’t know how much of this s*** has been pulled before. So I think it’s time to assess our shared history. The more patrons know, the more powerful we are.

First, a disclaimer. A lot of the terrible things the Minnesota Orchestra did during the lockout, they’re not doing anymore. The more inclusive leadership style of new board chair Gordon Sprenger and interim CEO Kevin Smith has been working wonders. Leadership is key. There is still a long way to go to rebuild trust, and any number of things could derail the (rather miraculous) progress made so far. But at least we’re headed in the right direction. I feel that’s an important disclaimer to make, because I have zero interest in rehashing a painful past for no reason. At the same time, I feel it’s important for people to know what happened.

So in the interest of bringing the Minnesota and Atlanta communities together, and educating those new to modern orchestral labor disputes, here are ten major similarities between the two lockouts. My longtime readers can doubtless add more in the comment section.

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Doug Hertz Takes On The Crazy People

It is becoming increasingly clear that the power players in the Atlanta Symphony lockout are the members of the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) board. This impression was solidified once former ASO CEO Stanley Romanstein resigned and it was revealed that the interim CEO would have no role in negotiations. Nowadays it’s all Woodruff, all the time.

During the upheaval of the past few weeks, I’ve been chatting online with disgruntled Atlanta patrons. Lately we’ve been wondering who the Richard Davis / Jon Campbell equivalent is over at the WAC.

Well, good news: We Found Him!

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Naked Nymphs and the Atlanta Symphony

A provocatively titled blog post made the rounds the other day: “Maybe Atlanta Symphony Should Lock Out Its Marketing Department Instead.” It included a link to the Atlanta Symphony brochure for the ill-fated 2014-2015 season. I clicked it, thinking to myself, well, it can’t be any weirder than the Dallas Symphony’s Beefcake Beethoven

And then mid-thought this loaded.

aso brochure 1

 

Holy –

Holy wow.

I might as well warn you: I’m gonna talk about naked people now. So if you’ve got a problem with reading about naked people, I’ll catch you later, once I start writing about 990s again.

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Stanley Romanstein’s Massive Bonuses: 2012 Lockout Edition!

Another week, another string of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra management fails.

As some of you undoubtedly already know, the Atlanta Symphony management has a whole slick webpage devoted to presenting its point of view at http://www.atlantasymphony.org/en/2014musiciantalks.aspx. It was the website they directed their Facebook users to, until the moderator on their Facebook page had a public meltdown and shut down all interaction with and between patrons. And that unusual tactic…………worked, if by “worked” you mean “made September 2014 this blog’s biggest month ever, surpassing the busiest months of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.”

A lady is discreet about her page views

A lady is discreet about her exact number of page views, but you get the gist

In any case, on said slick webpage, management prominently advertises this email address: ASOQuestions@woodruffcenter.org. Implication: if you have ASO Questions…you should write this address.

And as you can imagine, I have Questions!

So on September 8, I sent off an email to ASOQuestions@woodruffcenter.org to ask if a more recent 990 form was available, and if not, when it would be released…

 

Hi ASO Questions:

As a lover of orchestral music who survived the hell that was the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, I have an acute interest when I see work stoppages at American orchestras. I would like to know when the next Woodruff Arts Center 990 will be coming out, and where I can get copies. I was extremely discouraged to see Dr. Romanstein’s bonus and incentive compensation in past 990s, and I would like to know what kinds of bonuses and incentive compensation Romanstein has received since the first lockout.
A friendly word of warning to whoever is manning this address: 2014 is not 2012.
With best wishes for the long-term artistic and financial health of your organization,
Emily E Hogstad

As you can imagine, the ASO immediately sent a long email openly and warmly addressing all of my concerns, and we all lived happily ever after.

Haha, just kidding. Actually, they never replied, as evidenced by this screenshot.

haha-no-answer

 

So, having run up against that brick wall, I encouraged some friends to write, too. They sent very innocent, mildly phrased questions about ticket policy in case of concert cancellation, giving no indication they were connected with me. And surprise surprise, none of them ever heard back, either. If you’ve been lucky enough to get a reply from the ASO Questions address, please do say something in the comments. But in the absence of additional evidence, I’m guessing that emails sent here are not being answered – or, at the very least, that a large percentage are not being answered. Which begs the question why the address is there in the first place. ASOQuestions@woodruffcenter.org appears to be the nonprofit equivalent of a false storefront.

It actually took an Atlanta Symphony chorus member friend posting on Facebook to clue me in that the document I was looking for – the 990 for the fiscal year spanning June 2012 to May 2013 – has just been posted on guidestar.org. Yep, that’s right: I found the information I was seeking about the Woodruff Arts Center through musician supporters, not the Woodruff Arts Center. I think that might say something.

There’s probably a lot of fun stuff in there; you can check it out for yourself. But I immediately scrolled down to page 34, because after writing an earlier popular entry on ASO administrative bonuses, I was curious to see if the Atlanta Symphony CEO had taken a bonus during the actual fiscal year of the 2012 lockout. (Remember, the previous incentive pay / bonuses that I wrote about were awarded during the run-up to the lockout.)

Lo and behold…

more bonuses

Stanley Romanstein, base compensation of $317,347, other compensation of $1945, deferred compensation of $13,358, nontaxable benefits of $16,704, and…

Bonus / incentive pay of $45,000.

tumblr_inline_mz3odvqgJj1rqo3at

And remember, this bonus was awarded in the same fiscal year that the ASO locked its players out.

I’m gonna be a broken record here, but: bonus or incentive pay for what? Is the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, in conjunction with the Woodruff Arts Center, incentivizing lockouts, incentivizing failure? One’s inner conspiracy theorist has to wonder, is failure the ultimate goal here? Tear down the existing structure, then build a new one, suited to one’s own peculiar ideological purposes, or to cover up past broader failures, or both…the desires of other stakeholders and the broader community be damned?

In Dr. Stanley Romanstein PhD’s case, perhaps this means creating something akin to the Atlanta Chamber Music Players, since he is cheerfully advertising the fact that he wants to have sole control over whether or not departing or retiring players should be replaced. I am not joking. In case you fear I’m a hysterical armchair analyst, here’s an excerpt from an article that appeared on accessatlanta.org called “Orchestra’s size resonates as big issue in Atlanta Symphony dispute“:

At issue is a management proposal in which ASO president and CEO Stanley Romanstein would negotiate with music director Robert Spano and Players Association representatives on whether and how positions would be filled as they come open. In cases where a consensus could not be reached, Romanstein would have the final say.

My bold.

And the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is advertising this article on its aforementioned slick website! So it’s not like they’re ashamed of their plans or anything.

highlighted

 

If this kind of crazy raises your hackles, you’re not alone. Save Our Symphony Minnesota [edit: and Save Our Symphony Detroit; a pretty major oversight on my part for not acknowledging them in the original post!! forgive me! – E] have recently welcomed an unofficial sister organization into the world: Save Our Symphony Atlanta. Like them on Facebook here to keep track of their rabble-rousing and explosive growth. In less than a week, they’ve garnered nearly over 7000 supporters on Facebook alone.

If it wasn’t obvious before now, it’s now clear: the Atlanta Symphony and the Woodruff Arts Center are now fighting a two-front war: one on their musicians, and another on their patrons.

In logical times, you wouldn’t attack your own patrons. But these are not logical times.

***

 

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The Atlanta Symphony Facebook Page Loses It

A gut-wrenching thing is happening to the Atlanta Symphony.

And I’m not talking about the second musician lockout in two years, that looks set to deprive the Southeastern United States of great orchestral music for months, if not years, to come.

No, I’m talking about the fact that Atlanta Symphony CEO Dr. Stanley Romanstein PHD is being forced to endure people saying negative things about him on the Atlanta Symphony’s Facebook page…simply because he took home obscene bonuses in the years before the first lockout started.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a couple of days.

On midnight of the night of September 6-7, the musicians’ contract expired.

On September 8 came an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra status update:

We really enjoyed having Joshua Bell in Symphony Hall in May.

… O…kay?

tumblr_minh27MLaM1renhw4o3_500

As my friend and fellow symphonic rabble rouser Amy Adams observed: “That is indeed a wonderful thing to share from months ago. ANY OTHER MAJOR NEWS TO SHARE?”

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Stanley Romanstein’s Massive Bonuses

I haven’t spent much time digging into the Atlanta Symphony cluster**** yet because this weekend I was in the Twin Cities celebrating. Thanks to two solid years of hard work by many hundreds of people, combined with copious amounts of luck and an extensive housecleaning at the top of the organization, the Minnesota Orchestra is finally turning a corner. It’s an unqualified miracle. On Saturday I was in the midst of a midnight conversation over ice cream with some dear lockout friends, sitting outdoors under the sparkling moon and laughing, feeling profoundly profoundly grateful for everything, when one of my fellow activist audience members pulled out her phone, checked Facebook, and read the Atlanta Musicians’ press release. We’d all known it was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier. Our smiles faded, and expletives were uttered, loudly. It was the only asterisk of unpleasantness in an otherwise magical weekend of celebration.

So I read what I could between parties, and have been trying to get up to speed today. Because I’m invested in this thing – and if you love orchestras, you should be, too. The Atlanta musicians’ fight is our fight, just transplanted to a different city, like some kind of dangerous airborne mold spore, or maybe an STD. As it was in Minnesota, Facebook is turning out to be an invaluable clearinghouse of information that is often more detailed and more valuable than the “he said, she said” summary of events in traditional print media. My friend and Save Our Symphony Minnesota volunteer Elizabeth Erickson advised in a comment to a post on the Atlanta musicians’ Facebook page, “Yes, start digging for financial dirt… Get pro bono lawyers and accountants on board to review 990 tax info; be vocal about what you find…” Yup. And under the Atlanta musicians’ Facebook page, under a link to Kevin Case’s recent excellent article, Kathy Shaw Amos wrote a comment about bonuses.

My eyebrows immediately raised. Bonuses to a CEO of a financially troubled orchestra right before a brutal musician lockout? This movie played for a while in Minnesota. And if I’m remembering correctly, it didn’t end well…for the CEO.

So I took the, y’know, two minutes it takes to fire up Guidestar.org, download some Woodruff Arts Center documents, and check to see if Kathy Shaw Amos was right. Two minutes I’m assuming the non-blogging media should have, which they apparently don’t. Did nobody learn from Minnesota that the first step is always the 990s? The first step is always the 990s. Check the first one out here, and scroll down to page 40.

At the top of the form, you can see that the Woodruff Arts Center fiscal years start on June 1st and end on May 31st. The most recent form available dates from the year extending from 1 June 2011 to 31 May 2012. The Atlanta musicians’ lockout occurred in the autumn of 2012, when ours did. So this is all pre-lockout.

Bonus1

 

Click to enlarge.

What this says is that Dr. Stanley Romanstein, the Atlanta Symphony President, took home $335,344 in base compensation, with a $45,000 “bonus and incentive” compensation, plus $26,403 in untaxable benefits, bringing his compensation that year to $406,747. That begs the question: bonus and incentive compensation for what? It would be one thing to hand out bonuses to executives who are leading orchestras in good shape, but not ones so fiscally and morally dysfunctional they’re about to lock out the creators of their product.

For those of you who are just joining us, I asked similar questions back in October 2013, when I found that former Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson took home $619,313 in compensation, including two separate $100k bonuses meant for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. This scandal turned into what we in the Minnesota scene ended up calling “Bonusgate.” The Minnesota Orchestral Association tried, but ultimately failed, to suppress community outcry. It was one of the major developments that eroded donors’ trust in Henson so severely that a mere six months later he…..”resigned.” By the end of his tenure, he was unable to attend a Minnesota Orchestra concert without hearing pissed-off patrons yelling before performances, “Fire Henson!” It got to the point where I heard rebellious Minnesota audiences joking about whether or not it was legal to “yell fire Henson in a crowded auditorium.” (Heh.) Is this the kind of impotence that Stanley Romanstein aspires to? Or is he just hoping that Georgian audiences are dumber than Minnesotans?

So back to Atlanta. Other management members took home bonuses that year, too. Clayton Schell, currently the Vice President of ASO Presents according to the Atlanta Symphony website, took home a $20,000 bonus that year. Michael Shapiro, the Director of the High Museum of Art, took home a $30,000 bonus, pushing his total compensation to the low $700,000s. (The High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Symphony are connected via the Woodruff Arts Center.)

Will these bonuses mean the difference between a deficit and a surplus, between fiscal strength and weakness? Well, no. Do I begrudge these folks their bonuses? Well, not…automatically. But as we saw in Minnesota, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Bonuses being tossed out so liberally by a non-profit as its orchestra is running massive deficits and contemplating locking out its employees certainly suggests that Hey, Y’Know, There Might Be More To This Story! And troublingly, that “more” might not show up in the 990s. Bonuses in times of financial trouble also bring up legitimate questions about the wisdom of the Woodruff’s and the ASO’s expenditures. Are bonuses for an orchestra CEO really the most responsible use for that particular $45,000? Is giving the CEO bonuses and incentive pay really the best way to advance the mission of the organization? My trust in this leadership team is eroding rapidly. And as we in Minnesota know, when the public can no longer trust a non-profit to wisely carry out its mission, said non-profit is doomed, until its course changes. New business model, old business model, “contemporary operating model”: Minnesota proved that no model can be successful without trust and transparency between all stakeholders.

I’d like to stop there, but unfortunately, the craziness continues. Jump back another year to find even more bonus insanity. This comes from the fiscal year lasting from 1 June 2010 and ending 31 May 2011. (Check out page 31.) There are bonuses sprinkled throughout, but notice Dr. Romanstein’s special accomplishment:

bonus2

Yes, he was apparently sooo amazing at running an orchestra in crisis that he earned $75,000 in bonus or incentive pay!

Go, Stanley!

And then, as the info-mercials say: but wait, there’s more!

Yes, back in the pre-Romanstein days, in the fiscal year lasting from 1 June 2009 to 31 May 2010, former Atlanta CEO Allison Vulgamore took home $169,101…in incentive and bonus compensation alone. Her total compensation that year totaled nearly $600,000. Check out page 28. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact her tenure was ending, but…I don’t really care. It’s still a bonus. Paid to a CEO. Leading an orchestra. That was in such dire straits. That a few years later. It purportedly had no other choice. But to lock out its players.

Gah.

(I guess we should be grateful the direction of the bonuses are gradually trending downward…?)

Hey, Woodruff, ASO management. As Jon Stewart would say, meet me at camera three.

Here’s my question:

tumblr_lmsqiiaeaA1qfbofi

 

What the HELL, guys? Are you running a non-profit or a shell corporation with an in-house orchestra? What are these bonuses for? Why were they given? How could Stanley Romanstein accept them in good conscience, knowing it was possible – if not likely – that he would be locking out his players in a few months’ time? Does your entire board know about them? Do your audiences know about them? Do your donors know about them? How did these bonuses advance the mission of your organization? What kinds of bonuses are you paying Stanley Romanstein nowadays? As you were preparing for your second lockout in as many years, did you happen to glance to the north and see that these kinds of tactics got the organization nowhere? Are you consciously modeling your strategy after the one that failed so miserably in Minnesota (if so, WHY?), or are you just so dangerously oblivious you haven’t noticed the similarities?

If Stanley Romanstein and the leaders of the ASO and the Woodruff can’t answer these questions, they are not worthy of leading one of this country’s great orchestras. But judging by what they’re saying to the press now, it will likely take the determined long-term hammering of a lot of music lovers before they get the message.

Check out the Atlanta Symphony Musicians website, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Share the news with your friends and family. Just as our fight was theirs, theirs is ours.

And as always, follow the money.

***

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