Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Clinton’

More Anti-Union Rhetoric from the League of American Orchestras

January 25th, 2012 No comments

The League of American Orchestras (LAO), formerly known as the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL) has ramped-up their anti-collective bargaining rhetoric lately. LAO’s latest publication: Fearless Journeys: Innovation in Five American Orchestras is yet another in a string of “new model” discussions that champion this message. The book claims to provide “hard evidence” through a small sample study that orchestras can become more “sustainable” by taking risks and modifying their collective bargaining agreements. Of course there is no mention of the established alternative where the fundamental right to bargain is expressly prohibited as the organization wanders aimlessly to the public trough only to reward their administrators.

LAO vice president Bruce Clinton recently made headlines here in Denver while forcing this very agenda on the CSO and it was a only a stroke of luck that he resigned from the CSO board before succeeding in his hope and efforts to shut the orchestra down. In his 10/7/11 interview on Colorado Public Radio, LAO President and CEO Jesse Rosen provides cover for Clinton while displaying his own ignorance of the facts through his comments: “The disappointment that I feel about it is that there is so much really important work for orchestras to be doing; to continue to innovate, to continue to grow, to deepen their connections to the community. What we see in Colorado, unfortunately, is a group of constituents who have yet to align themselves around a shared set of vision and direction.”

Please give yourself a pat on the back for funding LAO’s self-serving, anti-union agenda. LAO was recently awarded a $100,000 NEA grant to “strengthen orchestras through learning and leadership development” while focusing on “best-practice models” at their annual conference.

The bulk of LAO’s funding comes through membership dues that range from $150 to $29,120 annually. Dues are typically collected as a line-item expense from orchestra budgets without consent or knowledge of members of the orchestra. If union dues were collected in this manner I’d be writing this column from prison.

The LAO made headlines again in a January 4 story in the Oregonian reporting on why the Oregon Symphony dropped their LAO membership. “I find the on-going discussion around the need for a “new model” dispiriting” said Oregon Symphony President Elaine Calder. “At an annual cost of $17,000, the benefits of membership were not worth the expense.” The cost of an LAO membership ranges from $150 to $29,120 annually through a dues structure that places the highest burden on mid-size orchestras.

For many of the same reasons the Youth Orchestras of the Rockies (YOR) recently opted not to renew their LAO membership after their board reviewed the matter. Commenting further on this decision, DMA Vice President and YOR Music Director Thomas Blomster said “The YOR Board of Directors asked what we were getting by being members of the LAO, as most of the Board didn’t even know who or what the LAO is. I responded that we get the privilege of using the LAO’s logo on our website and programs, and the LAO clogs our email boxes with information that is of very little use. All this for a membership of $150 a year, not very much money, but $150 the YOR Board felt could be better spent.”

Mopping up after having been “showered upon”

January 19th, 2012 No comments

Bruce and Martha Clinton

Bruce and Martha Clinton

“Bruce and his wife, Martha, have made a tremendous difference in the many organizations in which they are closely involved, including the symphony orchestras in the three cities in which they maintain homes: Chicago, Denver, and Miami. Their generosity has been showered upon the Colorado Symphony Orchestra here in Denver, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra for their Miami Residency, the New World Symphony and, of course, the League of American Orchestras.”

The above quote comes from a page of the League of American Orchestras website, highlighting a 2008 LAO dinner honoring former CSO board members Bruce and Martha Clinton. Interestingly, the referenced page is no longer available because it is quickly masked by a pop-up ad.

This draws a stark contrast to the Clinton’s deliberate attempts to shut the CSO down only months ago, and subsequent and continued efforts to undermine the organization for months after they walked away from their responsibilities.  The Clinton’s also reneged on their season pledges over their differences with “union work rules,” leaving a sudden and deliberate financial crisis for musicians and community leaders to mop up.

As vice president of the LAO, Bruce Clinton has taken his agenda across the nation. A report on their June, 2011 LAO Conference blames “collective bargaining agreements” for much of the industry problems that orchestras face today. As if this were nothing more than a game of Monopoly or Who Sank my Battleship, the report goes on to script the turmoil that CSO musicians were expected to endure in the immediate months ahead:

“Next few months some major and medium US orchestras will face the challenges of robust innovation. It will be a really interesting experience, which orchestras will succeed best in this competition.”

Heather Miller & Bruce Clinton throwing spitballs … again

December 29th, 2011 No comments

As much as they keep trying, resigned CSO board members Heather K Miller and Bruce Clinton are failing to show any evidence that the CSO is holding firm to an unsustainable business model. As board members they were more determined to shut the organization down than take the lead into the future. Rather than accept their personal failings as board members they repeatedly tried to paint “union work rules” as their scapegoat, despite the simple fact that the musicians repeatedly yielded to their demands.

The first spitball was Miller and Clinton’s politically charged editorial, published in the Denver Post on November 13 – two months after they walked away from their responsibilities as board members. Their latest was a December 22nd interview with Mike Rosen on KOA (850 AM). They initially hoped to have the show to themselves, but a CSO board co-chair arranged after the fact to call in during the later part of the show. It wasn’t until that moment on live radio that Miller and Clinton learned of all the good that happened since they walked away, including the CSO’s announcement of a new business plan that was vetted by an inclusive committee and broadly endorsed by the musicians.

In full disclosure, Mike Rosen admitted “I don’t like labor unions” and “haven’t gone to a symphony concert in probably 10 years, maybe longer.” So, this is the perfect forum for Miller and Clinton who chose to put themselves on public display with a talk show host who knows nothing of the subject matter except that he shares their political ideology.

Hostile Nonprofit Takeovers

December 2nd, 2011 No comments

The sudden, September exodus of twenty CSO board members will be remembered as a fortuitous change for the better, creating a welcome opening for new and returning leaders who are committed to building the orchestra’s future and maintaining stature as a world-class orchestra. Our community is deeply thankful for this show of support and direction from true patrons of the arts. This was not the case in recent years while the orchestra was under the powerful grip of individuals in pursuit of personal agendas and pointless, anti-union ideology.

The latest twist in this sordid story is a vindictive, politically-charged editorial by resigned CSO board members Heather K. Miller and Bruce Clinton that ran in the Denver Post on November 13. Former board members Martha Clinton, Steve Holtze, Bernard Schotters, Kevin Duncan and Gary Lutz contributed to this editorial that lashes out at the very organization they were sworn to support only weeks ago. In an effort to cover their tracks and personal board failings, they go on to blame the Musicians Union that is “more focused on preserving an unrealistic labor contract than preserving the future of the symphony and their very jobs.”

Miller and Clinton claim that “Under the leadership of former president and CEO Jim Palermo, executive salaries were cut and creative programs were designed to expand the symphony’s audience appeal.” That would be an excellent point if it were true. But the facts show that from 2009 and 2011, costs for orchestra, artistic and chorus declined from 75% to 65% of total costs (decrease of $339,000) while admin/marketing/development increased from 25% to 35% (increase of $1,480,000) during the same period. At the bargaining table we repeatedly asked Palermo for any examples where management executives would be sharing the sacrifice that he was forcing upon the musicians. Palermo gave no example, and in fact responded by saying that he must reserve the right to give his top executives raises as he sees fit.

Miller & Clinton also blame the Union for selectively leaking their in-house “Sustainability Study” to the press, which in of itself was a concerted effort to blame the union for anything and everything that could possibly go wrong with a symphony orchestra. Fabricated charges that the union somehow leaked their Sustainability Study or that the union is protecting an unrealistic labor contract may well have come from the moon. The record clearly shows that these board members were determined to shut the orchestra down regardless of whether the musicians agreed to their demands or not. The shameful truth is that these board members resigned their positions in September as the musicians conceded to their demand for a $530,000 wage concession, not to mention their seemingly impossible deadline to accomplish this within 4 days.

I believe the 20 resigned board members mistakenly assumed the musicians would vote against the wage concession, thus enabling them to point to the union as their scapegoat and excuse for a planned, frustrated departure. Their plan was foiled when they woke up the next day to learn that the musicians accepted their demands, which left the entire community scratching their heads wondering why they walked away from their reponsibilities. The truth is far worse than that. They also took $500,000 of 2011-12 season pledges with them, deliberately sending the orchestra into a cash crisis.

2009 contract negotiations were no better, with repeated threats of bankruptcy and forced lockouts. Bruce Clinton and then board chair Kevin Duncan were on the management side of the bargaining table. Both were voting in favor of bankruptcy during that summer of 2009, even as negotiations were underway and the musicians accepted their mandated 24% pay cut. How did it come to this, and where did this determined effort to shut the orchestra down come from?

The Bricks & Mortar Curse
In November of 2007, Denver voters passed a $550 million bond issue that included $60 million as seed money for a new concert hall, with the understanding that the CSO board had pledged to raise another $30 million. But these same board members who beat the drum for $60 million in City tax dollars were suddenly sitting on their wallets when the economy went south at the end of 2008. Their $30 million pledge to the City never materialized (sound familiar?) and their personal frustrations suddenly turned on the musicians, blaming “union work rules” for the mess that the board created.

The ‘Bricks & Mortar Curse’ has raised its ugly head elsewhere. In San Antonio, TX, aggressive fundraising for their planned $195 million Tobin Center is drawing critical contributions away from the San Antonio Symphony. The orchestra ended the 2010/11 Season with $750,000 in debt and is now relying on advance ticket sales to fund operations. An October 7 story on warns the “City may get little or no symphony” and raises the prospect of a the new concert hall opening in 2013 or 2014 without an orchestra.

One of the more interesting examples goes back a few more years, but in many ways hits much closer to home. The Florida Philharmonic Orchestra served a population of over 5 million and was on sound footing with budget and ticket sales when construction of their new Miami home began in 2001. Incredibly, the FPO was forced out of business by the time the $500 million Adrienne Arsht Center opened on October 5, 2006. By no small coincidence in January, 2007, the Cleveland Orchestra began their annual 3-week Miami Residency (est. budget of $3 million) as a means of “fulfilling our promise to the community” while simultaneously playing a direct role in the demise of the FPO and its 43-week season (approximate $9 million budget).

The irony is the death of the FPO arguably came at the hands of board members and leaders within the organization. A June 2007 story titled Harmony & Discord in Cleveland Magazine details efforts of former FPO chairman Daniel Lewis who is now chairman of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency. The Cleveland Residency, in collaboration with the New World Symphony training orchestra, has now replaced FPO while drawing considerably more resources from the community.

The direct link to Denver is through Bruce Clinton, who is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency and also serves on the Board of Trustees of the New World Symphony. Obviously Clinton got just what he wanted in Miami: NWS orchestra members are given a room and $450/week, they have no union contract and must leave the orchestra after 3 years. “It’s all about the kids,” said Clinton during our 2009 contract negotiations. “That’s why I’m here.”

Just how “sustainable” is Bruce Clinton’s Miami model that imports the Cleveland Orchestra at five times the cost per concert over the former FPO? How sustainable is the future of NWS orchestra members who no longer have the FPO as a potential employer because of the actions of these “civic leaders” in Miami? The Miami example shows that a union orchestra can be shut off as easily as a light switch and a non-union or contract replacement can be sold once again as a “promise to the community.” The New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Dallas Symphony will again be in-residence this summer in Vail, so a similar “collaboration” here in Denver is just a phone call away.

Bruce Clinton made his fortune in construction, so he understands the ‘bricks & mortar’ curse that follows the performing arts. Securing naming rights in public buildings will surely promote his business. Moreover, his multiple board positions have become powerful bully pulpits for Clinton, to promote anti-union idealogy within the cultural community. Clinton’s pulpit has broadened in scope and national influence now that he is Vice-President of the League of American Orchestras. The degree to which Clinton has now abused his position with the League is the subject of an opinion piece Collateral Damage from the Clinton Letter by orchestra consultant Drew McManus.

Yes, the shameful resignation of 20 board members was a rare stroke of luck for the CSO. If Miller & Clinton had gotten their way, the sustainability model for the orchestra would be $450/week (or less) as we see in Miami. I still shudder at the thought that Heather Miller would have been chair of the CSO board had she not resigned over her baseless claims about union work rules and orchestra sustainability. Ms. Miller built her career and influence in the banking industry, which of course makes her a specialist in these matters. Are we then to believe the CSO would be more sustainable if it followed the banking model and became solely reliant on other people’s money? A November 27 Bloomberg News story reveals the shocking reality of the bank bailout from 2007 to 2009 and a previously undisclosed total of $7.77 Trillion.

Need I say more?

Pete Vriesenga is President of the Denver Musicians Association