Minn. Orchestra, musicians fail to agree; lockout threat looms

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2012 - 8:40 PM

Both sides reject offers. SPCO agrees to "play and talk."

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Members of the Minnesota Orchestra performed at Colonial Church in Edina recently.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Minnesota Orchestra management on Sunday swiftly rejected two proposals from its players' union, but it remained unclear whether musicians would be locked out once their contract expired at midnight.

The orchestra management had said last week that it would lock musicians out if they did not accept a final offer, which would have cut average salaries by 34 percent. The players unanimously rejected those terms on Saturday.

The two sides held a brief meeting on Sunday, where management said no to proposals that the contract dispute be put to binding arbitration, or that the two sides "play and talk" under the terms of the now-expired contract. In a statement after the meeting Sunday, management did not specifically address the lockout question. A spokesperson acknowledged last week's lockout threat, and indicated there would be more news early Monday.

No further talks are scheduled, and musicians on Sunday did not indicate whether they will picket Orchestra Hall in the event of a lockout.

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra management and union also met on Sunday. The SPCO musicians' contract expired on Saturday night, but both sides have agreed to "play and talk," with negotiating sessions set for Oct. 10-11. Musicians will play a free concert at Macalester College at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, hosted by Garrison Keillor.

Pay would dip to $89,000

The two sides in the Minnesota Orchestra dispute have been meeting since management offered a contract proposal that would have cut average annual pay to $89,000, from $135,000.

Management has said the cuts are necessary to re-set union salaries in line with what the state's largest arts institution can afford. Orchestra management said labor costs make up 48 percent of its $31 million annual budget. President and CEO Michael Henson has said that over the past decade, the orchestra has withdrawn an average of 10 percent annually from investments to cover deficits. Sunday's statement expressed disappointment that musicians still have not made a financial counter-proposal.

"We have provided more than 1,200 of pages of financial information to the musician's negotiating team," the management statement said. "Therefore, we respectfully decline the musicians' request to continue playing after the expiration of the contract and are puzzled as to why the musicians now want to turn such an important decision over to a single arbitrator."

Clarinetist Tim Zavadil, a member of the negotiating team, said the proposed cuts could reach 50 percent for players in principal and assistant principal chairs who have accumulated seniority.

"These are the soloists, the leading players in the orchestra," Zavadil said. "There's a tremendous reduction in titled-chair premiums."

In the case of a lockout, players may not report to work and are not paid.

Zavadil said other orchestras around the country will likely extend offers for short contracts to locked-out musicians. He, for example, has a week lined up with the St. Louis Symphony.

"It's fairly common," Zavadil said. "When Atlanta was locked out, the principal trombone played a week with a major orchestra."

The Minnesota Orchestra season had been scheduled to begin Oct. 18 at the Minneapolis Convention Center while Orchestra Hall undergoes renovation.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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