It appeared mild enough, but a public statement issued Wednesday by the Minnesota Orchestra board demonstrated that every development in the bitter labor dispute has become grist for volatility.
The board issued a news release that proposed parameters for a financial analysis that musicians requested last fall.
On Jan. 2, the board agreed to the musicians' demand, and a small task force with representatives from each side was to come up with a framework. The board sent its suggestions for that analysis to the musicians' attorney on Wednesday.
The board recommended that management and the union jointly fund the review, that it should test both the accuracy of the orchestra's 2012 fiscal position and the "forward-looking financial assumptions" that are the basis of the 2012-13 strategic plan.
"We hope the review can now move forward quickly and serve as the foundation upon which the union can create a counterproposal," said Richard Davis, chair of the board's negotiating committee.
But later Wednesday, the musicians issued a statement saying management had "violated the spirit of the 'fresh start'" by making public its parameters for the financial analysis. The musicians' statement claimed that as part of the agreement on Jan. 2, both sides had agreed to "no negotiations or surprises in the press and a virtual media blackout."
Board spokeswoman Gwen Pappas responded that the "fresh start" involved four points, none of which was a media blackout, adding "We agreed to change the mission statement, which they wanted, and to give them more financial information, agree to the financial analysis and propose more dates to negotiate, and we've done all that."
Management locked out musicians Oct. 1 after musicians rejected a proposal that would have cut base salaries by 32 percent. The musicians never made a counterproposal during talks that had started in April, and management insisted that any talks during the lockout be predicated on the union offering a counter.
On Dec. 21, the board dropped that precondition and the two sides met Jan. 2 for a "fresh start." No other meetings have been held, as the two sides were to work on setting up the financial analysis.
Management also recommended a study to measure the community's fundraising capacity for the orchestra. The musicians have suggested that concerts resume while talks proceed. Management says that would result in losses of $500,000 a month. While the players say additional funds could be raised to cover those costs, management wants an independent analyst on whether those donors could be counted on for the long term.
The orchestra board and staff raise about $12 million annually. Board chair Jon Campbell said orchestra fundraising professionals "have a good sense" of community capacity. "But this issue is absolutely at the heart of these negotiations, and we are willing to hear the musicians' strategy around new funding possibilities," he said.
Graydon Royce 612-673-7299