Minnesota Orchestra musicians unanimously reject latest proposal

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 28, 2013 - 9:43 PM

The union said it would continue to negotiate through the weekend.

Calling management’s latest proposal “artistically unsustainable,” musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra on Saturday unanimously rejected the offer and said they will continue to negotiate through the weekend.

“We are grateful to members of our board who have worked tirelessly to bring this dreadful lockout to a conclusion. However, this proposal is regressive in nature, leading to a cut in salary of 25 percent,” said Doug Wright, a member of the musicians’ negotiating team.

Board negotiators, in a statement, said they were “very disappointed” in the 60-0 vote by the musicians.

Two days before a Monday deadline that could see the departure of music director Osmo Vänskä, the two sides in the bitter, yearlong dispute appeared far apart.

Wright said the proposal “will not keep our finest players here” and “will not keep the Minnesota Orchestra a great orchestra, period.”

Vänskä has said he will resign if there is no deal to return musicians to work for rehearsal this week. However, Wright said Saturday that “no one is quite sure” that Monday is a firm deadline.

“We were told that the 9th [of September] was a deadline, then the 15th, and then the 23rd,” he said. “Even if Monday is not a hard deadline, we know a deadline is looming.”

Michael Henson, president of the orchestra, said in a statement Saturday afternoon that the board will “continue to work toward Sept. 30 as the deadline.”

Vänskä’s threat to quit is tied to two concerts that the orchestra is scheduled to perform at Carnegie Hall in early November. In an April letter to the board, he said he considered these performances crucial for the Minnesota Orchestra. He later told the board that in order for the orchestra to prepare for the New York dates, the players would need to be rehearsing with him by the week of Sept. 30. Monday is an off day, so the first rehearsal would be Tuesday morning.

Board cites movement

A separate statement from the board said its negotiators have moved “significantly” over the last 18 months, from a position that would have cut salaries 32 percent to the latest offer, which averaged “an annual reduction of 17.7 percent over the life of the contract.” That figure includes the offsetting impact of a $20,000-per-musician signing bonus that was part of the last offer.

The musicians continue to voice their support of a proposal by mediator George Mitchell to lift the lockout and return musicians to work for four months (including two months at reduced salary) in which the two sides would negotiate.

That plan would allow the orchestra season to open and the Carnegie Hall concerts to take place. However, if no agreement on a multiyear contract were reached at the end of the four months, the lockout presumably would be reinstated. The board’s negotiating team has rejected that proposal for its cost and because it does not guarantee that a contract will be reached.

The three-year plan rejected by musicians would have reduced minimum salaries 18.6 percent in the first year, with smaller reductions in years two and three, to a total cut of 25 percent. The proposal also promised $20,000 signing bonuses for 84 musicians and a revenue-sharing agreement if the orchestra exceeds certain budget goals. The minimum annual salary at the end of the three-year deal would be $84,915. The old minimum was $113,204. The board had asked for a vote by noon Monday, to allow musicians to return to work Tuesday.

Status of talks unclear

Musicians’ spokesman Blois Olson said the group decided to vote Saturday morning so that negotiations could continue through the weekend. Sixty members voted. He said talks were occurring and called this “a very fluid situation.”

Sources said Saturday that it is unlikely the two sides would be able to meet face-to-face before Sunday.

On Saturday, Wright thanked board director Marilyn Carlson Nelson for her efforts to rally the corporate and foundation community in recent weeks to raise most of the money for the proposed signing bonuses. He said, however, that the money, estimated at $1.3 million, should instead be used to fund the four-month negotiating period provided for in the Mitchell plan.

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  • Minnesota Orchestra musicians spokesman Blois Olson called the weekend talks “a very fluid situation.”

  • Doug Wright, a musician and negotiator, takes his turn answering question at the Saturday morning press conference.

  • FOUR OFFERS SO FAR

    July 22: Management proposes lifting lockout for two months of talks, with musicians taking a 25 percent cut in base salaries if no agreement is reached. Musicians reject offer.

    Aug. 16: Mediator George Mitchell proposes lifting lockout for four months, with musicians making their pre-lockout pay, or a bit less, but returning to lockout if no deal is reached. Musicians accept; management negotiators reject.

    Sept. 15: New offer made to musicians through Mitchell’s office, details of which are not revealed.

    Sept. 26: Management makes new proposal, with a three-year salary stepdown ending in a 25 percent cut in the third year, plus a $20,000 bonus per musician. Musicians unanimously reject.

    GRAYDON ROYCE

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