Ok, I have spent the last two blogs questioning the wisdom of musicians going on strike. Now I would like to be a bit more productive and offer some possible solutions. I agree that orchestras around the country are looking to see the outcome of the Detroit strike, but not for the reasons you might think. I am going to take an optimistic view and assume that they are watching what happens to see if Detroit can come up with any brilliant ideas that will help them solve their economic woes too.
First, let's stop the ongoing "negotiations" over salary with all symphony orchestras in the country. I have never been able to figure out why all non-profits in the country haven't done what US federal government workers have worked out with their employer. In other words, just tie all raises (federal gov. workers never take pay cuts) to the same cost of living index that the federal government uses for their employees. If federal government workers deserve a 2% raise, then so does everyone else in the non-profit sector. Hey, it might even have a side benefit of making everyone in the country pay more attention to the expanding federal payroll. In order to accommodate regional economic disparities, just use a comparison to public school teacher's salaries in any local jurisdiction. If a public school teacher in Michigan makes 20% less than teachers in Maryland, then adjust symphony salaries accordingly.
Second, look at operating budgets based on percentages. The American Symphony Orchestra League has detailed charts and graphs that show averages of how much is spent on administrative staff, operating costs, personnel, advertising/marketing, etc. They do this for orchestras in every economic niche so that orchestras could compare apples to apples. For example, an orchestra that operates on a $1.5 million can compare their percentages to other orchestras in the same tier. If an orchestra is way out of line in comparison to other similar orchestras then figure out who is at fault and fire them.
Now, stop thinking in cash only terms. Here are some examples. All musicians need reliable cars to do their job. We tend towards Toyota and Honda because of the longevity and reliability of the vehicles. What if, instead of going to GM and Chrysler and asking for cash they don't have, the Detroit Symphony instead asked them for a car for every musician? This is a win/win. What a great advertising opportunity for car manufactures. (I would photograph the Detroit musicians parking lot and paste it in every classical music related publication possible.) GM and Chrysler could promote their products into a market that has abandoned them and Detroit musicians could ditch a car payment. ($200-500/month)
Repeat this concept for everything from dry cleaning to cell phones. Give Detroit symphony musicians special discount cards for participating merchants. Businesses may be cash poor right now, but they might be willing to give a 15% discount to musicians. Again, a win/win on both sides. Struggling businesses gain a new customer base, customer loyalty and help their community while musicians cut their expenses.
As a final added incentive, the citizens of Detroit (and all of Michigan) need to really consider what is lost if the symphony cannot retain these extraordinary musicians. It is not just the economic contributions that a symphony makes to a region. Remember, most of these musicians are also probably working as private studio teachers, helping another generation reap the many benefits of classical music training. Most of them are also married, so not only do you lose the musician, you lose the spouse's job and economic contribution to the city. Now add their children into the mix, as well as relatives who visit for holidays, etc. and you can see the economic impact in ever widening circles.
Why not give it a try? Detroit has everything to gain by keeping this workforce in Detroit. This is your last chance. If the cultural institutions go under, then Detroit might as well resign itself to becoming a ghost town of America's industrial past.