Feb. 9, 2003, 8:59PM

Viewpoints A shame about Toyota

According to the Chronicle's Feb. 6 Business Page One article, "Houston not a contender because of dirty air," Houston lost out on a new Toyota plant because of our dirty air. Where is our business leadership on the subject of clean air? The answer is nowhere.

Most recently, our business leaders were seen fighting clean air standards!

They were claiming that to clean up the city's industrial air pollution would "hurt the business climate." Yet, the area has lost hundreds of good-paying, middle-class jobs due to the shutdowns of a local sugar and paper plant.

Hundreds of other jobs in retail have been lost, too, and even more are on the chopping block. That Toyota plant sure would have been good for the city, and would have raised the number of employed workers.

If we cannot attract high-wage, high-skilled jobs, we will be doomed to depend on energy trading companies and oil-bust-to-boom-to-bust economic rollercoaster rides.

Business leaders and our elected leadership must lead the way to economic development and clean air.

Richard C. Shaw, secretary-treasurer, Harris County AFL-CIO Council, Houston

  Feb. 15, 2003, 12:37AM

Briefs: Houston and state

Southwest attendants protest 13-hour days

DALLAS -- Southwest Airlines flight attendants delivered a Valentine's Day volley at the carrier's main airport Friday with a protest saying management has lost its loving feeling in asking them to work longer hours.

About 40 flight attendants at the profitable low-fare carrier handed out candy and sang love songs from a past generation at Love Field in Dallas as they protested against what they said were management calls for a longer working day.

"We are out here today because our company has suggested that our flight attendants should be working a longer duty day, with shorter rest periods and no breaks," said Thom McDaniel, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents 7,500 attendants at the airline.

McDaniel said airline management has suggested raising the duty day to 13 hours from 10.5 hours.

He said that, unlike their counterparts at other airlines, Southwest flight attendants have extra work such as cleaning planes on the ground between flights.

The airline, which prides itself on good relations between management and labor, has been in talks with the flight attendants union for about nine months on a new contract.

  Feb. 19, 2003, 12:16AM

If symphony is destroyed, blame society board


The ongoing contract negotiations between the musicians of the Houston Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony Society are of particular interest to me. For 10 years, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion has been the official summer home of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Over those 10 years, thousands of residents of The Woodlands and North Houston have enjoyed the artistry of the orchestra.

We have played an integral role in helping build new audiences and new sources of financial support for the symphony. By adopting the pavilion as its summer home, the symphony has been able to add a new dimension to its audience. Those who attend symphony performances at the pavilion are, for the most part, not classical music "regulars." Instead, they are much more representative of middle-class Houston families. They bring their neighbors and friends and children, and while some of them are a bit wary the first time they decide to give the symphony a try, many of them rapidly become regular concert-goers. In fact, attendance at the symphony's performances at the pavilion has risen every year.

This says a great deal about the contribution the symphony makes to Houston. Not only does it provide audiences at the pavilion and at Jones Hall with a great entertainment experience, it educates children about the world of music and exposes adults who may never have had a classical music experience to a brand new art form. It also brings families and friends together in a positive way.

I am honored to play a role in this.

Sadly, as I follow the ongoing contract negotiations between the musicians and the Symphony Society, I fear that this achievement is at risk of being lost. This is absolutely unnecessary! Should it happen, I will lay the blame squarely at the feet of the leadership of the Symphony Society, which has clearly taken the attitude that it is willing to destroy the excellent orchestra it has in order to preserve the society's fiefdom over Houston's classical music community.

A major factor in the less than harmonious relationship between the orchestra and the society is the society's failure to recognize that the orchestra is in fact the product. That the only reason we need a society, a venue or a capital campaign is to support an outstanding, world-class orchestra. That without such an orchestra the society has no purpose or mission.

Yet the society, though it speaks in glowing terms of the artistic and almost magical qualities of the orchestra, views itself as the critical element -- believing that without the society and its members, there would be no orchestra and hence no product. As long as that is the mentality, we will never experience the partnership that is essential to developing and maintaining the world-class orchestra everyone believes Houston deserves.

Further, while at the same time heaping praise upon the orchestra, members of the society characterize the musicians as being spoiled, arrogant, uncooperative and ungrateful. Should the negotiations ultimately fail, the society's public posture will be to declare that it bent over backward for the musicians but they were not willing to sacrifice. Society members will characterize themselves as the victims, with the musicians and the "musicians union" cast in the role of the bad guys.

The fact of the matter is, there will be two victims: the musicians and the people of Houston.

The musicians are not responsible for the flooding [of Jones Hall] from Tropical Storm Allison. The musicians are not responsible for the ongoing recession. The musicians are not responsible for poor symphony management. The musicians are not responsible for the Symphony Society's refusal to work to expand the base of subscribers and contributors. The musicians are not responsible for the society's failure to make the Houston Symphony Orchestra a regional organization, which would create new opportunities for support.

The musicians have done all that has been asked of them, and they've asked for the opportunity to do more. They have, on their own time, participated in educational outreach efforts; they have performed in a variety of venues, even private homes, to enhance contributions and generate new subscribers. They have proposed working with the society on a new capital campaign and have pledged to do all it takes to make it a success.

To suggest that the musicians have been intransigent or uncooperative is absurd, insulting and not supported by the facts. From the start of the current negotiations, representatives of the players have proposed that the capital campaign be a unified effort -- a true partnership between the orchestra and the society. In return, they have simply asked that the first dollars earned would be used to avoid cuts in orchestra membership, programs and salaries. The society has refused to give even momentary consideration to this proposal.

The story line from members of the society board is so far removed from the facts that it's almost impossible to believe that they are talking about the same issue. In addition to falsely claiming that the musicians are the problem, they also proclaim that they have made all the sacrifices. They claim they've cut the management staff and reduced staff salaries in order to save money. This does not move me, as those cuts came after unprecedented growth in staff and salaries, which failed to provide any tangible benefit to the symphony bottom line.

They constantly return to their core argument that to save the orchestra, it must be cut. This is as sensible as saying to improve the Chronicle the paper must first get rid of its best and brightest reporters. The Chronicle would never do that. No sensible organization would ever do that.

Over a period of several years, I have repeatedly tried to shake the Symphony Society out of its moribund ways. I have pointed to our great success at The Woodlands and the potential it has to lead to new sources of revenue. Over the last few years alone, Hewitt Associates, Anadarko, Chicago Bridge and Iron, Chevron-Phillips, Lexicon Genetics and other major firms have brought their headquarters to the Woodlands. All of these are great companies with an interest in contributing to their community. As far as I can tell, the Symphony Society has had no interest in pursuing them for financial support.

I do not believe members of the society are inherently bad people. In fact, many of the individuals with whom I've had personal encounters are bright, upstanding members of the Houston community. Unfortunately, it is my conclusion that they have blinders on. My reading of the roster of board members suggests that it is a group made up primarily of wealthy, Inner-Loop residents and downtown business people. In comparison to the diversity evident in the greater Houston population, the society board is an anachronism.

I am not suggesting, nor do I believe, that the board's lack of racial, ethnic, age and class diversity is the result of some deliberate policy. Rather, I think it is the result of a lack of understanding, imagination, creativity and energy. I think both the board and management have dug themselves into a rut -- both in terms of how they deal with the orchestra and how they present themselves to the greater Houston-area public.

Houston is a great city with a diversity of population, skills and experience. It is a city that is on a mission to find itself and uncover its potential. The Symphony Society can and should be the rallying point -- the leader in a regional effort to not only preserve the orchestra but to move it to the international stature that both the orchestra and the city deserve. That, unfortunately, will not happen unless there are dramatic changes in how the society and management deal with the current orchestra negotiations.

Gottlieb is the president and chief executive officer of the Cynthia Mitchell Woods Pavilion.