A House panel heard testimony on state's labor stalemates, with an eye to future legislation to discourage lockouts.
With three high-profile labor lockouts continuing in Minnesota, Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, told an overflow crowd at his Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee meeting Wednesday that there is "an epidemic of lockouts, not just in Minnesota, but nationally."
Although Atkins' committee took more than an hour of testimony on the impact of lockouts statewide, he promised no imminent action.
"Legislation is being contemplated to prevent or disincentivize the probability of lockouts," he said. "But we will save that for another day."
The hearing was intended to address lockouts in general, but statements from people affected by the Twin Cities' two major orchestras dominated the session.
Mark Thoson of the citizens' group Save Our SPCO said that when a nonprofit entity accepts special status or grants paid for by tax revenues, "the state and the corporation have a duty to ensure that the benefits to the public are protected."
Save the SPCO was one of two citizens' groups speaking about effects on the broader community. Laurie Greeno, co-chair of Orchestrate Excellence, said that school programs have been canceled because of the lockout, and that more than $250,000 in revenue has been lost at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra have been locked out for 93 days. Carole Mason Smith, head of the musicians' bargaining team, said the union made a proposal Tuesday that would save $3.6 million through 2016. Smith, reporting details from recent negotiations that had been held under a media blackout, said the musicians had offered to meet a management demand to reduce the ensemble to 28 from 34 members, if management agreed to give players more say on the artistic makeup of that group.
Doug Wright, speaking for Minnesota Orchestra musicians locked out since Oct. 1, repeated union positions that the lockout will have "lasting, devastating effects on the orchestra" and leave Minnesota with a "third-class arts resource." The musicians have now missed approximately four months of work or roughly $44,000 per player based on the previous average annual salary of $135,000.
Michael Henson, orchestra president and CEO, repeated a management promise that the orchestra will sequester any state funds it receives and not use that money during contract negotiations. Thanking the state for $14 million in bonding money now being used to remodel Orchestra Hall, Henson said that project has employed 130 union members.
The longest-standing lockout in the state was also represented at Wednesday's hearing. Three people spoke of the lost wages and social impact of the 18-month American Crystal Sugar lockout on Moorhead. Depression, alcoholism and violence are concerns, said Heidi Durand, a Moorhead City Council member.
There might have been four lockouts hanging over the hearing Wednesday, but the Minnesota Wild is playing hockey again. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he is frustrated that cities affected by lockouts are helpless bystanders.
"I support collective bargaining rights, but when a city invests in assets that support these businesses, we have to have a voice at the table," he said.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299