Our response to the DSO Message of the Day

March 29, 2011

Dear Ms. Weingandt,

Greetings from Save Our Symphony.

Your most recent Message of the Day (included below) is largely devoted to our organization and our positions so, in the interest of fairness and an open dialogue, we would like to respond. We welcome the opportunity for a dialogue on these and other topics concerning the future of the community’s cultural gem, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Perhaps we can help you with the apparent difficulty you have telling the difference between us and the musicians of your orchestra. We are an independent, nonprofit public advocacy group devoted to the preservation of the DSO. Yes we are sympathetic to the musicians. Our voice is our own — the voice of the community. Neither the musicians speak for us nor we for them. We don’t go on stage, are not on strike nor do we have a financial stake in the outcome. You have not been negotiating with us, although that hardly differentiates us since reportedly you haven’t been negotiating with them either.

Your message refers to two categories of email you have received on the subject of resolving the strike by binding arbitration. You correctly identify our support for binding arbitration but have not effectively articulated the argument in favor of it, so let us take a turn.

The strike has dragged on for 6 months. However one might characterize the negotiations or absence thereof, at this point there is an impasse. The board insists on conditions which are unacceptable to the musicians. The gap is intractable. What is the prospect of resolution? None. What’s at imminent risk? At the very least the summer and fall seasons.

Binding arbitration would close that gap, save 2/3 of one year’s programs and set the stage for the board, the orchestra and the community to collaborate to engage the real problem — the dire financial condition of one of the nation’s great symphony orchestras. Binding arbitration would put the strike in the past and bring ALL the stakeholders together.

If you think we cannot or will not help, you could not be more wrong.

The second category of email is firmly in opposition to binding arbitration and provides “lengthier content” in the way of supporting arguments. Although you do not provide attribution for this email, the content so closely follows the stance of the board leadership that we shall take it to have come from them directly.

“Under your current circumstances, I think full binding arbitration is high risk for both musicians and management and could lead to organizational disaster”

The idea that full binding arbitration is high risk for musicians seems odd. Under full binding arbitration on all unresolved issues, the musicians could not do worse from their perspective than capitulating on all their current negotiating positions.

Describing full binding arbitration as high risk for management is similarly odd. It would rescue the summer and fall seasons. Given your mission statement, losing the summer and fall seasons would appear to be an organizational disaster.

Invoking “organizational disaster” disregards the fact that an organizational (financial) disaster is already in full swing. The DSO is technically bankrupt based on the financial statements from fiscal 2008 through 2010. Over that period the DSO lost a staggering $43 million in net assets (typically termed balance sheet equity). Salary compensation for the musicians over this 2 year period was $28.4 million. Over half of the assets on the balance sheet are in real estate. The Max, the major piece of real estate, was the primary cause of the covenant violations and the default on the bond interest payments. In the last 15 years, the number of donors has declined by 80%. Consider the cumulative effect on revenue of such a precipitous decline. (Please let us know if you find any inaccuracies in the preceding financial facts and circumstances that we have discovered based on the financial statements referenced).

Presiding over the destruction of one of the nation’s great symphony orchestras might also fairly be characterized as an organizational disaster given the mission statement and proud history of the institution.

If the board has powerful arguments that the financial viability of the organization can only exist under their proposed terms, why would a fair arbitrator make any ruling other than on those proposed terms? If these arguments are so powerful, why can they not be the subject of full discussion and debate among the whole board? Where in the bylaws does it state that board members shall not be heard?

The DSO in its present state is in a death spiral. The board’s conduct of the strike is causing musicians to leave, causing bitterness among the music lovers in the community and driving away the benefactors who would salvage the orchestra. Binding arbitration is the first step back from the brink.

Thank you for your time,

Judy Doyle
Denise Neville
David Assemany
David Kuziemko

Referenced Letter:

Dear Members of the Board -

Today’s Message of the Day contains two pieces of information related to Wednesday’s Board meeting:

#1: Be prepared to be greeted by a large group of Musician supporters

The DSO Musicians/Save Our Symphony organization plans on having a substantial presence as you arrive on Wednesday. They will easily overwhelm the stage door alley. With this is mind, our security team as well as the Wayne State/Detroit Police Department will be briefed; the DSO Musicians/Save our Symphony organization is likely to be joined by sympathetic demonstrators.

#2: Wednesday’s agenda is built around the full range of financial and contractual issues facing the corporation.

We have received emails expressing opinions about the DSO Musicians/Save Our Symphony’s plan for binding arbitration. Those emails come with one of two messages. Message one is “please submit to arbitration.” They are straightforward in this advice.

The alternative messages are lengthier in their content. Here is an excerpt from a recent email:

“Under your current circumstances, I think full binding arbitration is high risk for both musiciansand management and could lead to organizational disaster.

Why? A good arbitrator would look at the ‘whole picture’ and make the best decisions on fact-based data. This could be highly unfavorable for all parties due the weak financial condition of the DSO and lead both parties to unintended consequences.

(i.e. a conclusion that the DSO is not viable)

As well, agreeing to a full binding arbitration could potentially cause the Board of Directors to lose institutional control which understandably they would not, and should not, want to yield. An arbitrator could impose financial and operational accountabilities on the Board inconsistent with the long-term viability of the DSO.”

We share these points with you so you can prepare for Wednesday’s meeting. If you have any questions on this material, please don’t hesitate to contact Paul Hogle or Anne Parsons.

Best regards,

Elizabeth Weigandt
Director of Public Relations
Detroit Symphony Orchestra

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