Do the numbers add up?

Talks between management and musicians at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra have stalled for a moment, with each side questioning the other’s financial calculations and demands.

Musicians say that management refuses to compromise on its demand that annual savings of $1.5 million be realized. Management acknowledges that they’ve been set on that figure for 14 months.

“We have told them for more than a year and we need to get to $1.5 million and we can’t get halfway there,” said board chair Dobson West.

The musicians claim that they have offered savings of $3.4 million over three years, an average of $1.13 million. West responds that the union has acknowledged those numbers are flawed. Carole Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating team, batted that one back over the net:

“We have acknowledged that we’re missing information that they have not supplied,” Smith said. “They have yet to prove to us that any of their proposals will add up to $1.5 million.”

To that end, West said management is putting together detailed financial information that will be delivered to the other side no later than next Tuesday.  

Unlike the faceoff at the Minnesota Orchestra, SPCO negotiators have been meeting regularly and with greater frequency in the past month. The musicians had issued a press release Wednesday afternoon that said there was a “breakdown of contract talks.”

West was surprised at that lingo and when asked later if things were really that dire, Smith said there were still loose ends to tied up and if they don’t get tied up, it could become dire.

 Wednesday’s developments come after the SPCO announced on Tuesday that it was cancelling concerts through April 21 because of the labor dispute. There would still be 21 concerts remaining after April 21, through the first weekend in June, if the two sides reach agreement.

The SPCO contract expired last summer but was extended to Sept. 30. When players declined to respond to an offer on Oct. 21, they were locked out.

Despite the kerfuffle over missing information and which numbers add up, the SPCO situation is far ahead of the Minnesota Orchestra. Representatives of musicians and management there are attempting to reach agreement on the parameters for a financial analysis of the organization.

After not meeting since Sept. 30, the two sides sat down in early January and agreed to a “fresh start.”

It has now been more than two months since that ephemeral whiff of optimism and there is no agreement on what the financial analysis will consist of. Actual talks on a contract would not occur until after the financial analysis is completed.


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