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Las Colinas Symphony Musicians Locked Out

October 18, 2019

As of late September, Management of the Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra (also performing as the Garland Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Arlington) has locked out its Winds, Brass, Percussion players & Harpist for the 2019-20 Season as a result of Local 72-147 filing grievances on behalf of the orchestra’s members. The season is to open October 17, 18 and 19 with concerts in Arlington, Garland and Irving.

In the last few years of a longtime relationship with the Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra, tensions have come to the surface as Local 72-147 has taken action to represent musicians of the orchestra in various circumstances. This pattern continued as the spring turned into summer this year as Individual contracts were issued to musicians with non-bargained modifications, a dramatic staff change took place at the LCSO office, and some disturbing actions have been taken by the LCSO adversely affecting musicians.

After a contentious negotiation during the summer of 2018, the goal of the Players Committee and the Union was to build a better and productive relationship with the LCSO, with the appointment of new Executive Director Darren Rich. The musicians regularly expressed their hopes and aspirations for the LCSO, and their desire to be a productive part of its future. The Union met with Rich often, and carried on regular discussions with the hopes of coming up with new ideas and stronger paths of communication.

As was the case the previous summer, the Union anticipated that the LCSO would be interested in bringing some points to us to negotiate, and as individual contracts were prepared for the 2019-20 season, the musicians were informed that the LCSO would pursue reductions to the raise promised to the musicians in the Master Agreement.

The Union indicated that the musicians would bargain in good faith, and prepared for the process. Unfortunately, the contracts that Management planned to draw up for the musicians violated some terms of the Master Agreement, and included wages not yet bargained. After some discussion about ways to write the contracts, and some overtures of compromise from the Union to allow for negotiation over wages, the contracts were issued with some amendments that followed that spirit of the discussed compromise.

Within days of the Union’s last exchange with Rich, musicians were to learn that with no warning Darren Rich and the LCSO had parted ways , and he was suddenly no longer employed as Executive Director with the LCSO.

Shortly thereafter,  contracts were issued to winds, brass and percussion of the orchestra which did not include the modifications Rich had included in the contracts sent to string players. In addition some of these players were offered minimal services with the following language added to the cover letter:

“The attached contract and schedule reflect the substantially reduced orchestra which will be engaged if current negotiations with Local 72-147 of the American Federation of Musicians are not successful. If, however, a mutually acceptable compromise can be reached with the Local, you will be offered additional services.”

On June 3, additional messages were sent out to some individuals stating that the long standing policy of  a musician to be granted a release from one concert block per year when timely requested had been arbitrarily changed, and the LCSO “will no longer grant releases to principal players to enable them to play as members of other orchestras.”

Also on June 3 it was learned that Jon Lee, the LCSO Players Committee Chair, was informed that he would not be engaged for the 2019-20 Season. He had been performing as Principal Timpanist for three decades.

It would seem that the progress in developing a positive relationship with the new leadership of the LCSO had been halted.

The majority of the members of the Players Committee were directly affected by these actions.

Since these developments took place in early June the Union has stepped up to protect musicians affected by this. Firstly, a grievance was filed on behalf of Jon Lee for being let go from the orchestra, with no due process, and as a result of his service as Chair of the Players Committee.

The Union also filed a grievance on behalf of all the musicians who were issued contracts on May 31 and after that. These contracts did not promise musicians the wages agreed upon in the Master Agreement. To settle this the Musicians have asked that this be corrected, and made consistent with the contracts which had been sent out earlier (contracts issued by former Executive Director Darren Rich). So far Management has inexplicably refused. The Union continues to offer this easy, reasonable settlement.

Refusing all efforts at settlement, both grievances have been referred to arbitration. On September 19, at the arbitration hearing for the Lee grievance, Music Director Robert Carter Austin struck back by announcing that all fully executed Winds, Brass and Percussion players’ contracts would not be acknowledged.

Management invented an absurd explanation: that The Union has nullified these contracts as a result of filing a grievance. “This is as wrong as it is ridiculous,” said Local 72-147 President Stewart Williams. “In truth, the LCSO has broken these contracts, falsely blaming the Union. We consider this a partial illegal lockout, and breach of each of those individual contracts,” he said.

The LCSO is now describing its season which opens on October 17 as “eight fabulous concerts in store, with internationally renowned guest artists”. The company does not mention that they have now locked out 22 of its members, and is robbing its audiences of the season full of symphonic masterpieces that had been advertised since last spring.

And regarding the negotiation: the Union has put dates forward all along offering to meet in good faith – as per Management’s request to bargain – but Management has refused to do so until the grievances have been withdrawn. “It is quite unfortunate that our moves of good faith are responded to with punitive measures to members of the orchestra,” said Union President Stewart Williams. “But we do not back down when our duty is to the protection of musicians. This is simply the line that we do not cross,” he said.

Local 72-147 is currently taking the contractual and legal steps to protect the contracts of these wronged winds, brass & percussion players, and will see this to its full conclusion if a just settlement cannot be reached.

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