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Continued: Jan. 15: Three-year Minnesota Orchestra deal ends 15-month lockout

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 18, 2014 - 8:22 PM

The long dispute brought national attention to the Minnesota Orchestra, which won praise for its excellence under Vänskä. Observers were surprised that an orchestra with a seemingly healthy endowment and a $50 million expansion at Orchestra Hall would be asking for drastic salary cuts.

After balancing budgets for three consecutive years, in part by making unusually large withdrawals from the endowment, the board announced a $2.9 million deficit in 2011 and a $6 million deficit for fiscal 2012.

At the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, labor negotiations coincidentally broke down, and musicians were locked out in November, 2012. A deal was struck last April that brought the players back at a reduced workforce and with salaries cut an average of 20 percent.

Musicians at other orchestras, as well as Minnesota patrons, supported the union through the lockout, helping to finance concerts and creating a hardship fund for strapped members. Musicians announced in December that they had received $650,000 in pledges, as well as some concert income.

“There is a lot of love for this organization as a whole,” Zavadil said Tuesday evening. “We always knew we could get this done.”

Outside mediators

State, city and civic leaders all sought to end the dispute. Gov. Mark Dayton last spring summoned both sides to his office to see if they would agree to let a mediator help ease a deal.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell eventually got involved, although he did not figure in the talks after October.

Over the past 15 months, musicians lost several million dollars in salaries and benefits. They were eligible for unemployment, although that eligibility was set to expire in February. Also, musician eligibility for COBRA health benefits was set to expire in March. Many musicians played with orchestras around the country on a fill-in basis. Some took full-year appointments with other ensembles. Some left permanently.

Both sides acknowledged Tuesday that the slings and arrows of the past 15 months have resulted in some “scar tissue,” as Kelley put it.

“You don’t lock out someone for this long without there being lingering feelings,” said Blois Olson, a spokesman for the musicians. “The real test will be the future weeks and months and getting audiences into Orchestra Hall.”

When the Detroit Symphony’s six-month strike ended in 2011 with an 11 percent pay cut and other musician concessions, the orchestra performed a concert a mere six days later.

“Our goal was to get right back to business,” said president and Detroit Symphony CEO Anne Parsons, who, like Minnesota Orchestra president Michael Henson, was the subject of pointed criticism from musician supporters. “We started with the one thing we could all agree on — for everything to be different.”

Now that the contract has been settled, Jon Campbell will step down as board chairman. That had been agreed upon at the annual meeting in December. Kelley said Henson will remain as CEO and president.


Staff writer Kristin Tillotson contributed to this report.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299


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  • Minnesota Orchestra clarinetist Tim Zavadil spoke about the announcement of a contract agreement with the board bringing the Orchestra back to work February 1. he was flanked by fellow musicians Kevin Watkins, Doug Wright, Marcia Peck and Tony Ross at the Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, January 14, 2014, in Minneapolis, Minn. ] RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER •

  • Speaking Tuesday at the remodeled Orchestra Hall, board negotiator Doug Kelley called the long-sought agreement “a true compromise. No one got everything.”

  • The deal

    • First-year pay cut of 15 percent, with small increases in years two and three.

    • Musicians back to work Feb. 1.

    • Concerts to begin early February.


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