The Single-Issue Lockout: Why Complement Is So Important | October 30, 2014_
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra lockout is nearing the end of its second month. It is now plain that the dispute is over a single issue: orchestra complement. The musicians want the collective bargaining agreement to specify a minimum number of musicians – just like every other full-time professional orchestra in the country – and considering how many musicians left since the complement was cut in the 2012 lockout, the musicians want to see modest increases in that number over the next several years. The ASO – or, more accurately, its parent organization the Woodruff Arts Center – is willing to guarantee only that current musicians won’t lose their jobs, and promises only to use “best efforts” to raise funds to pay for additional positions if the ASO “can afford to do so.”
The bargaining situation is fluid right now. It is unclear whether the ASO/WAC is still demanding, as it has throughout the current lockout, the authority to unilaterally decide whether to fill vacant positions going forward. If so, then it is difficult to see any path to an agreement. As I have noted before, if management retains discretion as to whether or not to fill positions, then management is unilaterally determining how many full-time musicians are in the orchestra. Long-term, management can shrink the group to whatever size it wants. That’s union busting; and if implemented, would be a death warrant for the ASO and a dangerous precedent for the industry. There is simply no way the Atlanta musicians – or any group of musicians, for that matter – can agree to such an arrangement.
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that this is not the case, and that the issue right now is not whether to have a fixed complement, but what size the complement should be. Contrary to right-wing fantasies, the purpose of a higher complement is not to secure “cushy union jobs”; rather, a healthy complement is vital to the success of any symphony orchestra. There are many reasons for that, but I want to focus on three: sound, quality, and health.