Why I Don't Comment on Labor Difficulties

I have received a number of comments, particularly recently, asking why I don't explore the difficulties that some orchestras, such as the Columbus Symphony, are experiencing, and perhaps offer analysis and even recommendations for solutions.

I'll admit it is tempting - but it would be extremely foolish. First of all, the specific problems of any orchestra are the result of a very complex set of problems that would require weeks, if not months, of exploration and detailed examination to understand. All orchestras that get into financial trouble get there because their earned and contributed revenues do not match their operating expenses. But to understand the cause of any individual situation requires a level of study and knowledge of that specific situation that is not possible for me, sitting on the outside and observing. Is the problem mostly on the income side (poor fund-raising given the community resources available, ticket sales below what should be expected in a particular market)? Or is the organization obtaining a level of revenue appropriate for the size, demographics, and economic conditions of that particular market, and did it just let itself spend at too high a level? If the answer is a combination of those, where on the scale does it lie? Toward the "too much expense" or "too little revenue" side?  It is easy for outsiders to jump to conclusions -- conclusions that are frequently informed by a particular bias on the part of the observer. But I have learned, from 45 years in this business, and as someone who has served as a mediator in a number of labor disputes, that the answers are never obvious from the outside.

Secondly, even if the answers were obvious, or knowable, the solution is almost never brought about by public pressure or commentary. Emotions run high on both sides of any labor-management dispute, and are frequently the biggest barrier standing in the way of finding common ground. The more positions are staked out in public, and endorsed or promoted by one faction or another, the harder it is for people to give up those positions.

When I did serve as a mediator in labor disputes (in Nashville, Louisville, Houston, San Antonio, Honolulu) one absolute insistence of mine was that there would be no more talking to the press, no more printing of flyers or brochures, in fact no public comment of any kind, except that which I would issue. And all I would issue, during the process, was "no comment." 

So while I understand the desire of those who have asked me to write about the problems, I hope you can understand why I would not even consider it. All one can do is watch from the outside, hope that all the parties will have honest conversations with each other, and offer advice or assistance very privately if it is requested. Any public forum for this kind of dispute is more likely to exacerbate than to calm it.

June 13, 2008 11:17 AM |



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