SPCO contract talks stall over pay, staffing

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2012 - 7:29 PM

After two days of negotiations, the orchestra and its musicians have broken off bargaining until November.

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The musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, entrenched in contract talks with management, were looking to drum up public support by presenting a free concert Tuesday night, October 2, 2012 in the Leonard Center Gymnasium on the Macalester College campus in St. Paul, Minn. SPCO cellist Sarah Lewis warmed up before Tuesday night's performance away from the gym floor.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Two days of negotiations at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra brought management and union no closer to a new contract. The two sides will not meet again until November; economic conditions and orchestra size remain sticking points.

The SPCO is still playing concerts, but president Dobson West said Friday in a memo that the organization "cannot continue to operate under the terms of the expired contract." This raises the possibility that management might lock out musicians -- as happened two weeks ago at the Minnesota Orchestra -- or declare an impasse and implement its final offer while talks continue.

However, management said it does not believe bargaining is at an official impasse.

In meetings Thursday and Friday, management asked the musicians to voluntarily "talk and play" under the terms of its last offer, which would reduce guaranteed annual compensation to $62,500. Musicians countered with a figure of $70,000. The union suggested a ticket price increase, which management has repeatedly turned down.

The musicians are working under the terms of a contract that expired July 1. While individual salaries vary widely, it pays a minimum annual base of $78,223. They proposed a 10.5 percent cut; management is seeking a 20.1 percent cut.

Musicians also oppose a plan to cut the guaranteed number of players to 28, from 34, and to create an early retirement pool with money specifically earmarked by donors for that purpose. Players say that if there is money for such a fund, it should go to salaries. The 28-player minimum would not affect the orchestra's ability to hire extra players for certain concerts, which it does routinely now.

In Minneapolis, locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are planning a concert for Thursday, which would have been the season opener before that date was canceled. Conductor Laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski will direct the musicians. No talks have been scheduled in that dispute.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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