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.

Mitchell, 79, led what became known as the Mitchell Principles in 1996 — tenets that he felt were essential in reaching peace in Northern Ireland. They included using democratic and peaceful means to resolve political issues; verifiable disarmament; a renunciation of the use of force and to abide by the terms of any agreement.

The Belfast Peace Agreement was signed in 1998.

The leak Monday of documents that were considered confidential demonstrates one of the challenges in a dispute that has become extraordinarily bitter and public.

Blogger Norman Lebrecht said he received the documents from musicians, through a third party.

Mitchell was to discuss the situation with both sides this week, sources said.

Gov. Dayton was approached in May, following a Star Tribune editorial that urged his involvement. He requested names of possible mediators at that time.

 

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