Locked-out union musicians told the Minnesota Orchestra board Friday that management must lift the lockout in order for negotiations to restart.
Orchestra President Michael Henson said the board heard “a strong message” from the five members of the musicians committee, led by clarinetist Tim Zavadil.
“That appears to be a new barrier they have now put forward,” he said. “We have never been told that.”
A spokesman for the musicians later downplayed how new the demand was, but did not deny the linkage.
“They started the lockout, they have to take the first step,” said Blois Olson. “Or they can take their offer off the table. We’ve been saying that for weeks. It has to be unilateral.”
The 90-minute session Friday, which was closed to the public, came eight months after musicians first asked to meet with the board.
“The group felt like, overall, it was the opening of a dialogue with the board,” Olson said.
Henson agreed that the positive thing was that “the meeting happened.” He said board members made comments about fundraising, the Orchestra Hall renovation, and the ability of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra to make a deal with musicians who engaged in intense negotiations. Musicians are voting on a tentative deal at the SPCO, with results expected Monday afternoon.
“[Our musicians’] answer was, we can’t negotiate until the lockout has been lifted,” Henson said.
In a separate statement, musicians said “challenges can only be overcome by rebuilding trust and having a dialogue about what it takes to maintain a world-class orchestra.”
Players were locked out Oct. 1 after they rejected an offer that would have cut annual base salaries by 32 percent. Initially, the board said it would not negotiate until the union made a counterproposal. Musicians had demanded that a financial analysis be conducted. In late December, the board dropped its demand for a counterproposal and agreed to pursue the financial analysis.
The scope of that analysis — whether it would deal with board competency and artistic issues in addition to finances — created another disagreement. As a result, the board unilaterally proceeded with New York analyst Anthony Knerr.
Pressure has grown on both sides to resume negotiations.
Henson said the board, following the conversation with the musicians Friday, unanimously passed a resolution in support of the board negotiating committee. It also stated that the board shares the musicians’ vision for a world-class orchestra, but with the necessity of a sustainable contract.