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AFM Obtains Equitable Settlement for SPCO Musicians

by Jay Blumenthal, AFM Director Symphonic Services Division

Union members must have the ability to speak freely in union meetings without the fear of reprisals. Since a management presence could have a “chilling effect” on open and frank discussions and the employees’ engagement in union activities, managerial supervisors are excluded from our union meetings. This is a principle well-settled in federal labor law. Recently, a challenge to this tenet arose from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Society (Society).

A musician in the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) who also serves as senior director of artistic planning expected that he would have unfettered access to orchestra/union meetings. As senior director of artistic planning the musician makes artistic decisions that affect the employment of other musicians in the orchestra and is therefore a supervisory employee. Because of this, some musicians and the union believed his attendance at orchestra/union meetings would naturally inhibit the other members’ union activity and speech. Although some musicians were unconcerned about his attendance at meetings, it was important for the union to take steps to protect the rights of all members to freely participate in union activities.

Consequently, an unfair labor practice charge (ULP) was filed by the AFM against the Society. Region 18 of the National Labor Relations Board found merit in the charge and issued a complaint. Just days prior to a scheduled hearing before an administrative law judge, the Society and the AFM reached a settlement agreement. Pursuant to the agreement’s terms, the Society’s senior director of artistic planning is generally prohibited from attending orchestra/union meetings of the SPCO musicians. The union has the discretion—but no obligation—to allow this dual-status employee to attend portions of meetings during which no collective bargaining, contract administration, or similar sensitive issues will be discussed. The AFM is pleased with this resolution that protects the SPCO musicians’ right to engage in union activities without fear of adverse consequences to their employment.