The lengthy stalemate over musician pay at both Twin Cities orchestras is showing signs of movement.
Representatives of management and locked-out musicians will meet face to face next week at the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
In Minneapolis, these would be the first official talks since musicians were locked out Oct. 1 in a dispute over pay cuts and work rules. At the SPCO, musicians were locked out Oct. 21, but contract talks continued into early November.
In a joint statement, SPCO players and board members said the two sides would meet next Wednesday and Thursday with a federal mediator. These talks are being described as informal sessions to discuss "the very challenging issues that confront them."
Significantly, both sides said they would not disclose publicly what is said in the SPCO meetings. That contrasts sharply with the tone that has been set over the past several months, during which each side has regularly published updates and statements on negotiations.
On Dec. 21, management of the Minnesota Orchestra invited musicians back to the table with no preconditions. Previously, the board had insisted that musicians come to bargain only if they had a counterproposal. Musicians responded that they would consider the invitation to meet but that they wanted to know whether management would end the lockout, withdraw its final offer and make a new offer.
A spokesman for the musicians said Thursday that the union still is awaiting answers to those questions but decided to accept the invitation to talk. That session has been set for Wednesday.
The labor dispute at both orchestras has grown quite bitter. In each case, management has made proposals that would cut minimum base salaries by roughly 32 percent, arguing that declining revenue had made their business models unsustainable.
Minnesota Orchestra musicians rejected the offer Sept. 30 and were locked out the next day. SPCO negotiations continued until management locked musicians out on Oct. 21. The union formally rejected the SPCO proposal on Oct. 31.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299