Minnesota Orchestra lockout hits six months

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 30, 2013 - 12:22 AM

Absence of negotiations threatens the remainder of this season and the opening of a renovated Orchestra Hall. There is no end in sight.

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Maya Gels, 8, and Edda Bodel Fielder, 6, hugged at a benefit concert by Minnesota Orchestra players in Wayzata this week.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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With no formal talks on the horizon, the remainder of the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2012-13 season almost certainly will be canceled.

The opening of a renovated Orchestra Hall in July could be another victim of a bitter fight that has cost millions in economic activity and frustrated music fans.

The labor dispute that has silenced the orchestra will hit the six-month mark Monday, making it the most protracted among top 10 U.S. orchestras in decades.

While the orchestra has a 2013-14 season planned, it has, for obvious reasons, delayed making an announcement.

Nationally, orchestras and musicians are watching to see which side prevails, or what it takes to reach a compromise.

Jesse Rosen, president of the League of American Orchestras, warned Thursday that the two sides need to talk.

“There is going to be a solution,” Rosen said. “Why not get to it sooner than later?”

Management says it has offered several dates for negotiations. Musicians counter that without an independent financial analysis, there is nothing to talk about.

“If they came to us and withdrew their first offer and made another, we’d talk to them,” Tim Zavadil, head of the musicians’ team, said Thursday.

Two months after both sides agreed to the independent analysis, they are expected to announce Monday agreement on two entities to undertake the review.

Patrons have formed organizations aimed at settling the dispute, or at least getting the orchestra playing again. Friendly legislators have taken up the musicians’ cause at the State Capitol, and the $52 million Orchestra Hall project continues. In short, there’s plenty of activity, but nothing that seems to be nudging the dispute to an end.

Anatomy of an impasse

“Each side is focusing on how hurt they are,” said Laurie Greeno, co-chair of Orchestrate Excellence, which is trying to get the sides to talk.“They’re throwing conspiracy theories, outrage, blame and focusing on how awful things are.”

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who hosted a Feb. 1 “neutral” concert to celebrate the orchestra’s Grammy nomination, appears less interested in talking now. He sent a note through a representative when asked about the six-month anniversary. “This will only be resolved when both sides start talking to each other,” he said in an e-mail.

Hopes that outside forces could get the negotiations off the dime are unlikely to be satisfied. A federal mediator has had no impact to date, and the National Labor Relations Board would step in only in the case of an unfair-bargaining charge.

“They can sit it out as long as they want,” said Marlin Osthus, NLRB director in Minneapolis.

Michael Henson, the orchestra’s president and CEO, suspects the union may be delaying negotiations to use the reopening of Orchestra Hall as leverage.

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