Tom Steward

Tom Steward is the bureau chief of Watchdog.org's Minnesota Bureau, a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is an investigative reporter focused on waste, fraud and abuse in government and has previously worked for WCCO-TV (CBS) and KSTP-TV (ABC) in the Twin Cities. Follow Tom on Facebook and Twitter.

What About the Lost Art of Negotiation?

Posted by: Tom Steward Updated: October 3, 2013 - 1:30 PM

The magnum opus breakdown between the Minnesota Orchestra and musicians continues to be a performance for the ages as the longest playing labor dispute for a major US symphony.

As it turns out, however, the Minnesota Orchestra’s now-cancelled Carnegie Hall concerts were evidently more in jeopardy all along than realized. Last night members of Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, AKA stagehands, went on strike and shut down “America’s flagship concert hall” for the first time in its 122 year old history, bringing down the curtain before it ever went up on a gala fundraiser and concert.

Besides the Carnegie cancellation being the tipping point that led conductor Osmo Vanska to resign his post,what does yesterday's scratched performance on Manhattan's main stage have to do with the Minnesota Orchestra’s standoff with Twin Cities Music Union Local 30-73?

It’s another window into a world stereotyped by black ties and jewels that’s always been challenging for a lot of folks to identify with.  It’s not getting any easier, as more details emerge about contracts and compensation well into six figures and plenty of perks compared to most 9-to-5 occupations.

Take it away, New York Times: “They are among the highest-paid performers at Carnegie Hall, even though they do not play a note: they are the stagehands of Local 1, whose average total compensation of more than $400,000 a year is more than some of the hall’s top executives earn. Little happens on Carnegie’s stages without them.”

The Minnesota Orchestra’s labor lockout made a guest appearance in a Times overview that went beyond the details of Carnegie’s payroll showing stagehands to be paid more overall than the organization’s finance director. 

So did other developments in what the Times called “an extraordinary week that underscored the perils facing classical music in America in the 21st century.”  Cue the New York City Opera, which just declared bankruptcy and dissolution after a run of seven decades.  And instead of a Carnegie celebration with the Philadelphia Orchestra over its recent return from bankruptcy, the symphony stayed home and performed for free.   

The stagehand strike at Carnegie Hall involves the staffing needs of a $230 million expansion project, much different than the issues at hand here.  Still both impasses have dragged on for more than a year.  In the creative world there appears to be a need for a new appreciation of an all but lost art form –the art of negotiation.

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