Peacemaker George Mitchell steps into Minnesota Orchestra dispute

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 24, 2013 - 10:11 AM

Star Tribune exclusive: Ex-senator, who helped broker peace in N. Ireland, is mediating Minnesota Orchestra dispute.


He helped broker peace in Northern Ireland. Now, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell has stepped into the Minnesota Orchestra’s lengthy and bitter labor dispute.

Mitchell met last week in Washington, D.C., with representatives of management and labor to see whether he can coax the two sides into a mediated settlement, according to sources close to the situation.

Mitchell’s involvement is the latest twist in a stalemate that has lasted 10 months, the longest labor dispute among major American orchestras. The standoff cost the orchestra its 2012-13 season, the talents of several musicians who walked away in frustration and now threatens the orchestra’s new season.

Musicians have insisted that they will not negotiate until the 10-month-old lockout is lifted. On Monday, management reportedly gave musicians a proposal, through Mitchell, that would end the lockout for two months, beginning Sept. 1, and allow a window for mediated negotiations.

The proposal called for a 25 percent across-the-board pay cut to be imposed on musicians at the end of that period if no deal were reached, according to a London-based classical music blog.

Musicians had a regularly scheduled meeting Monday, but would not say whether they voted on a proposal.

“We never talk about the details of our meetings,” said spokesman Blois Olson. “We are still in dialogue to try to find a path toward mediation.”

Negotiations for a new contract began April 12, 2012. Management’s first proposal was to cut base salaries 32 percent.

Musicians never offered a formal economic counterproposal, and when the old agreement expired Oct. 1, they were locked out. Since then, there has been just one bargaining session in early January, intended to restart the process.

That effort fell apart, most significantly over differences concerning an independent financial analysis.

Mitchell’s potential involvement comes as new deadlines approach. Music director Osmo Vänskä has said he will resign if the contract is not settled by Sept. 9.

Vänskä said in a letter to board chairman Jon Campbell that he needs time to rehearse with the orchestra before an early November engagement at Carnegie Hall.

Mitchell was chosen from a list of possible mediators given to Gov. Mark Dayton this past spring, sources said. Both sides supplied names, and Mitchell agreed to take on the challenge.

His track record in dealing with warring parties in both Northern Ireland and the Middle East lends to his stature — although he doesn’t have substantial experience as a labor-management mediator.

Appointed to fill the term of former Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine in 1980, Mitchell won election two years later and served as majority leader from 1989 to 1995.

President Clinton then appointed him special envoy for Northern Ireland, and President Obama in 2009 named him special envoy for Middle East peace.

In 2006, he was asked by Major League Baseball to investigate the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the game. He released a report in 2007 that named 89 current or former players as possible users of the banned drugs.

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    Monday July 22, 2013

    Both sides distance themselves from report that offer was made by management and will be rejected by musicians.

  • George Mitchell spoke at a news conference in Jerusalem in a 2010 photo.

  • George Mitchell

    Born: Aug. 20, 1933

    1977-79: U.S. attorney for Maine

    1980-95: Democratic U.S. senator from Maine

    1989-95: Senate majority leader

    1995-2001: U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland

    2004-07: Chairman, Walt Disney Co.

    2007: Chief investigator, appointed by Major League Baseball, into allegations of players’ use of performance-enhancing drugs

    2009-11: U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace

    Minnesota orchestra dispute timeline

    April 12, 2012: Contract talks begin

    Sept. 30, 2012: Talks break off

    Oct. 1, 2012: Musicians locked out

    January 2013: Attempt to restart talks fizzles

    May 2013: Canceled concerts mean loss of entire 2012-13 season

    July 2013: Former Sen. George Mitchell enlisted in contract talks

    September 2013: Start of new season and opening of renovated Orchestra Hall in doubt

    November 2013: Carnegie Hall concerts remain on schedule, for now

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