The musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra held a free concert Oct. 2, 2012, in the Leonard Center Gymnasium on the Macalester College campus in St. Paul.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

In a reversal, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra contract headed to vote

  • Article by: Graydon Royce
  • Star Tribune
  • April 9, 2013 - 11:21 PM

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra appears to be on track to end its lockout of musicians and salvage a remnant of the 2012-13 concert season.

At the last minute Tuesday afternoon, the musicians’ negotiating team told the SPCO’s board of directors that it would seek a vote of all musicians on a proposed contract brokered with the help of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

The board, meeting in a special session to discuss the future of the orchestra, accepted the musicians’ actions.

“There are logistics that will need to be worked through in terms of how soon concerts can resume,” board chairman Dobson West said in an e-mail. “But the goal is to get back to bringing great music to this community as quickly as possible.”

Carole Mason Smith, head of the musicians’ negotiating team, said in a statement that the musicians were “excited to return to the stage as quickly as possible.”

The proposal will be taken to the musicians for ratification once the board and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) reach an agreement on media issues. The board has said it would need to conclude that agreement by Monday.

Concerts currently are canceled through April 21. West said Friday that the board hopes to resume concerts after May 5, assuming an agreement is reached by Monday.

The board called its meeting after musicians did not meet a 5 p.m. Monday deadline for accepting terms worked out through Coleman’s intervention.

Tuesday morning, negotiators sent a letter to West with three requests for alterations in the proposal. West responded that the remaining issues could be discussed during a “talk and play” period. However, he said, the board needed acceptance of the earlier terms.

No longer in dispute are the broad terms of an agreement:

• Annual guaranteed salary would be cut to $60,000 (down 18.6 percent).

• The ensemble would be reduced to 28 players, from 34.

• Overscale pay could not be cut below 80 percent of any player’s current level.

• An enhanced retirement package would be put in place.

The biggest sticking point in the past two weeks was the negotiation of electronic media distribution. The board agreed to settle that issue separately with the national American Federation of Musicians, but only if the negotiating committee agreed to take the deal to a vote.

The SPCO season began as scheduled last fall, even though bargaining had not produced a deal. That changed on Oct. 21, when players refused to accept a proposal and were locked out. The two sides resumed bargaining early this year and worked hard until stalling out in mid-March.

Coleman offered to be a mediator, and a proposal was rejected in an informal, nonbinding vote on April 1. Coleman asked the musicians to identify their remaining concerns, and he took those back to management. The mayor issued a statement Friday that indicated he felt the two sides had the basis for a deal. Musicians rejected that. Management has said it needed agreements in place by Monday so it could salvage part of the season.

Coleman issued a statement Tuesday night praising the sides for their efforts. “I know there are major concessions that both the Society and the musicians had to accept in order to reach this deal,” Coleman said. “Today’s agreement means that the world’s best chamber orchestra ... will be enjoyed for generations to come.”

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