Conn-Selmer to Hire Replacement "Monkeys"?


Contract offers strike sour note

The Bach workers are still out on strike in Indiana, they have been since April 1. I haven't written about it in a while, but saw another article.

It really does sound like an issue of respect and, if you believe the stories, bad manufacturing management. Definitely a lack of respect from workers to management.

When the company, which is a division of Steinway Musical Instruments Inc., began negotiations with United Auto Workers Local 364 early this year, it demanded about $3.5 million in wage and benefit concessions, or about $8 per hour per worker, said Local President Jerry Stayton.”They also told us monkeys could do our jobs,” he said.That didn't sit well with the union's 234 workers, many of whom have worked for Conn-Selmer and its predecessor companies for 20, 30, 40 years or more.

Hmmm, I hope that comment was made in the heat of an argument, if it was made at all. Does management just care about the short-term numbers more than quality or the employees?

“I don't want to sound arrogant, but we are craftsmen. We have learned our trade over a lot of years,” said Dale McDowell, who has worked for the musical instrument manufacturer for 44 years.The Vincent Bach plant makes some of the world's best-known and most prized trumpets and other brass instruments. Workers also were concerned that some of the changes in work rules and processes proposed by Steinway negotiators would hurt the quality and durability of the instruments they produce.

It sounds like a traditional old manufacturing company, with a sense of pride and purpose, has been turned into a “money machine” by new management. This seems far too common, someone gets into the business solely for financial reasons and clashes with the pride and sense of purpose that exists in a company.

Union members said the Conn and Selmer companies were good places to work until just a few years ago. Managers were often promoted from within the union ranks. They knew the ins and outs of production and they respected the workers' skills, Stayton said. Members of the management team that has been in place for the last three years don't have a background in the musical instrument business, Stayton said. They told workers the company could save $7 million a year by moving the production of the less expensive student instruments to China, which has become a major manufacturer of musical instruments.

You have to have more respect for your employees. You have to value your value-adding employees, particularly craftsmen. A bunch of managers, their MBA's, and a bunch of monkeys. Good luck with that. Fine, move to China. Good luck with that. There's something to be said about managers who are comfortable on the shopfloor (the “gemba”) and actually know something about the process and the business. Isn't this what Deming called “profound knowledge?” A bunch of professional managers can't necessarily jump into any company and expect to run it without respecting those who have been there before.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I very much doubt that “they” – the company – said monkeys could do their jobs. Maybe one schmuck said it in passing, but that’s different. Sounds good in a quote though.

  2. I realize it’s a strike period and politics are in play here. Maybe it wasn’t really said. But, I’ve read other reports where workers complain that management doesn’t respect their skills. I don’t know the first thing about Conn-Selmer, so someone please enlighten me if I’m lumping their management in with other poor manufacturing leaders that I have witnessed in multiple industries.

    If management views the workers as “labor”, meaning a group or a line item on a financial report and doesn’t respect their craftsmanship, no wonder there is tension between the groups. If management doesn’t respect the workers skill and experience, management will tend to think “We can find cheaper workers” without realizing what they will lose in terms in knowledge and quality.

    I’m a musician, not a trumpet player. I can imagine and respect the fact that there is probably some “art” to building an instrument, especially a brass instrument. Does management not realize that because they aren’t really musical instrument people?

    I’ve seen too many cases where management or engineers (in different companies) DID make similar types of disrespectful comments about production workers. That’s why I would tend to believe the reported “monkey” comment here when I read it in the news.

    I could be wrong.

  3. I feel qualified to comment on this matter because I am personally affected both as a repair technician for 15 years and as a professional musician for longer. There is a definite deterioration in the quality of craftmanship in the Bach instruments I see and also in the materials in the student line (ie:the saxes). This is very troubling to see such lack of respect given to true craftsmen and women who have dedicated so many years commited to producing the very best.
    If this trend continues we shall see the end to all that Vincent Bach started.
    Stefan L. Klein


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