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Minnesota Orchestra

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Jan. 2: Fresh talks signal thaw in Minn. Orchestra dispute

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE
  • Star Tribune
  • January 9, 2013 - 11:07 PM

In the first thaw in an icy labor standoff, management and musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra agreed Wednesday to create a "fresh start to negotiations."

Meeting for the first time since musicians were locked out on Oct. 1, negotiators agreed to seek a framework for ending an impasse that has shut down the ensemble and frustrated fans of classical music.

Since talks broke off on Sept. 30, the two parties have lobbed bitter statements at each other on websites and through the media.

The rhetoric softened noticeably on Wednesday. "I was encouraged by the meeting," said board chairman Jon Campbell.

A spokesman for the musicians said only that the players "agreed to a fresh start."

The board offered a four-point plan for musicians to consider:

• Return to the organization's former mission statement, with two changes to emphasize community service and financial stability.

• Share more financial data with musicians, including forecasts through 2015.

• Invite musicians to submit a proposal for a "mutually agreeable independent financial review" to verify the orchestra's financial condition.

• Offer a schedule of dates for more meetings.

"We had good dialogue around the four ideas that we had, and agreement on the concepts of financial sustainability and artistic quality and the fresh start," said Campbell.

The release of more financial information and the independent financial review were all points the musicians had requested during contract talks in September.

"We listened to the barriers moving forward," said CEO and President Michael Henson, "and what we've done in today's meeting is to move them out of the way."

Campbell said both sides agreed to "get moving forward on ... who we might select for the independent financial analysis."

Musicians were offended by a contract proposal that would have cut annual base salaries by approximately 30 percent -- to $78,000 from $115,000. The board was frustrated that the union never made a counter-proposal. The board had made such an offer a condition if the musicians wanted to return to the table. On Dec. 21, the board dropped that requirement and invited musicians back to talk.

SPCO also met

Meanwhile, union and management negotiators at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra also met Wednesday for the first time in nearly two months. Both sides have agreed "not to publicly disclose what transpires in the meetings," according to a joint statement released last week. Jessica Etten, SPCO spokesperson, would not comment, other than to confirm that the sessions took place with a federal mediator and will continue Thursday.

The SPCO board has proposed paying each current musician a guaranteed base of $62,500 -- although the actual base scale for new players would be $50,000.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians voted unanimously to turn down management's proposal on Sept. 30. When the contract expired at midnight, the board locked out musicians and the two sides had not met since.

At the SPCO, negotiations had continued into October but the board locked out musicians on Oct. 21. The players formally rejected a proposal 10 days later, and talks broke off in early November.

In both cases, orchestra managements have sought deep cuts in salaries and benefits, citing financial hardship. Both orchestras reported annual operating deficits in December.

The labor strife in the Twin Cities orchestra scene in some ways mirrors the national scene. However, the lockout of two world-class orchestras simultaneously in one metro area is unprecedented. Atlanta musicians were locked out for two weeks before agreeing to terms in September. Indianapolis settled after a five-week work stoppage.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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