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BOCK'S BIG WIN

Richard Bock's lounging in the proverbial catbird seat these days, in more ways than one. The über-popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives just aired an episode featuring Bock's 12-seat Italian eatery, Giuseppe's, at 28th Street and Indian School Road.

Hosted by fun-lovin', spiky-haired personality Guy Fieri, the show's been known to have a Midas effect on the small, mom-and-pop operations it spotlights. And Fieri loved Bock's dishes, his Bolognese ragu, which Fieri dubbed "crazy good," and his osso buco three ways: using beef, veal, or pork shank — take your pick. They're all recipes Bock picked up from his time in Florence, Italy, where he was employed for eight years as principal cellist for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra.

Bock even entertained Fieri with little a string and bow action. If you missed the program, no worries. You can bet the Food Network will repeat it, which is all the better for Bock, as it acts almost as a rotating commercial that he doesn't have to pay for.

The irony is that last year, when Fieri and his crew came to town to film the episode, Bock was embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Phoenix Symphony, where he'd been principal cellist for 24 years. As I discussed at length in a March item for my blog, Feathered Bastard, Bock was one of several musicians at the symphony who had filed age-discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Although the EEOC refused to comment on the complaints, they involved allegations that veteran players were being harassed and forced to take demotions or leave the symphony so they could be replaced with younger, more compliant players. The symphony denied the allegations and claimed Bock had broken a state law regarding the confidentiality of the mediation process. Actually, the law the symphony cited had to do only with the admissibility of evidence and carried no criminal penalty.

First, the symphony suspended Bock, then fired him in January. Bock fought back with a lawsuit, alleging discrimination, unlawful termination, and a hostile work environment resulting from the actions of music director Michael Christie, CEO Maryellen Gleason, and other symphony higher-ups. Bock and another musician, veteran principal violist Peter Rosato, went to the National Labor Relations Board, alleging retaliation and interference with their federally protected right to freely associate, organize, and come to each other's protection.

The NLRB brought a formal complaint against the symphony, which fought back with delay tactics and obfuscation. Gleason, in a conversation with me for the blog item, said that Bock "was, in fact, terminated for breaking an Arizona law."

But NLRB regional director Cornele Overstreet pointed out that the law in question, A.R.S. 12-2238, is essentially a rule of evidence.

"It is not a rule of criminality," said Overstreet. "It simply guides how the court looks at evidence."

As the date for an NLRB hearing drew closer, the symphony caved. According to David Kelley, deputy regional attorney for the NLRB, the board approved a settlement agreement whereby Bock and Rosato withdrew their complaints. Settlements were reached between the parties, and the Phoenix Symphony was made to post and adhere to a list of promises not to do anything to interfere with the rights of its employees to engage in "protected activities," such as filing age-discrimination charges with the EEOC or banding together for mutual aid and assistance.

The notice reads like a validation of the charges the NLRB laid at the symphony's doorstep. Specifically, the NLRB's complaint charged symphony muck-a-mucks with threatening employees with reprisals, giving employees the impression they were under surveillance, interrogating them about collective activities (the musicians are represented by the American Federation of Musicians, Local 586), and promulgating an overbroad rule of confidentiality, one in conflict with the National Labor Relations Act.

The actual agreement between the NLRB and the symphony does contain a line about how "the charged party does not admit the commission of any unfair labor practices." But the fact that it must promise not to harass or retaliate against its employees, and then post notices of same, makes clear who got the upper hand in the fight.

After the settlement, Bock sent an e-mail to his colleagues telling them what took place. His attorneys and the NLRB were confident they would win, he said. Negotiations ensued. And he was given two options: return to the symphony with his back pay restored; or drop all claims in exchange for a financial settlement.

"After some thought, I realized it would be impossible to return and play music for people like Christie, Gleason, and [symphony general manager Jay] Good," he wrote in the e-mail. "[They] have stained this orchestra for the first time in history and any pleasure I would have had in playing in it."

Asked about the settlement, Gleason had no comment. (Rosato's lawyer, Guy Knoller, indicated his client has also taken a settlement from the symphony instead of returning.) However, the symphony musicians recently accepted a 17 percent pay cut, supposedly because contributions are down, according to a recent symphony press release. But when Gleason and I talked in March, she argued that the decisions to demote or dismiss veteran players such as Bock were contributing to the symphony's well-being, which she portrayed in relatively rosy terms.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons