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Mayor Coleman Intervenes in SPCO Dispute; New Offer Made

An intervention by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman into the months-long labor dispute prompted Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra management to update its contract offer to locked-out musicians.

Mayor Coleman Intervenes in SPCO Dispute; New Offer Made

Five months after management for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) locked out its musicians amid a contract dispute, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has intervened, spurring management to present a new offer.

SPCO President Dobson West said in a Friday letter to orchestra staff and musicians that Coleman “expressed his concern forcefully to both sides that the remainder of our concert season is at risk and a cancellation of that season would result in serious long-term consequences for the SPCO and the city.”

Joe Campbell, a spokesman for Coleman’s office, confirmed that the mayor entered negotiations last Wednesday, urging both sides to come to a resolution. “The level of concern was equal” for both the orchestra’s players and management, and the mayor stressed that “the stakes are very high for St. Paul,” Campbell said.

Orchestra management has said previously that it seeks to cut costs by $1.5 million through musicians' contracts to ensure future financial stability. But after Coleman urged the group to make additional concessions, management was “convinced that we must take some additional financial risk in order to avoid the devastating consequences that could ensue from the cancellation” of the remainder of the season, West wrote in his letter.

In a Tuesday phone interview, West told Twin Cities Business that management perceives its latest proposal as a “substantial move.”

Orchestra leadership introduced a new “play-and-talk” proposal that allows for further negotiation of certain elements through June 30. West said the two sides must reach an agreement by April 8 or management will be forced to cancel the remainder of the season. Concerts are currently canceled through April 21, but if an agreement is reached by April 8, no additional concerts would need to be canceled, West said.

Management’s previous offer included separate compensation terms for new and current musicians. The new offer eliminates that distinction and boosts annual base pay to $60,000 from the $56,000 salary proposed previously. Such an offer would still represent a significant pay cut: Orchestra members' base salary in the 2011 to 2012 year was $73,732, and during the most recent season, prior to the lockout, they were paid an annual rate of $78,233, according to information on a musician-hosted website.

The proposal also guarantees that no current orchestra musicians would lose their jobs as a result of the orchestra being reduced from 34 to 28 positions. And the appointment of new musicians as positions become vacant would be determined by a committee in which musicians hold majority representation. (A previous offer requested an even split between musicians and management on the committee.)

In addition to the collective bargaining agreement, individual musicians have their own contracts, which often include additional pay known as “overscale.” Management's previous offer guaranteed that musicians would receive half of the weekly overscale to which they're entitled under their former contracts; the updated proposal guarantees 80 percent.

To view additional details about the new offer on the SPCO website, click here.

Robb Leer, a spokesman for the musicians, told Twin Cities Business on Friday morning that the players “applaud” Coleman’s intervention, adding that the mayor has been “quarterbacking” the latest round of talks.

However, Carole Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee, said in a statement that the musicians cannot legally vote on the new offer until language regarding digital media use is removed.

The American Federation of Musicians (AFM), which represents SPCO musicians in negotiating agreements covering the use of electronic media, filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board last month, accusing SPCO management of failing to provide requested information. The AFM said at the time that the SPCO has demanded that AFM permit the unlimited use of all recorded audio and video content made since the orchestra’s inception in 1959—but SPCO has refused to identify the titles of the recorded works and the names of the musicians and artists who performed them.

Management’s latest labor contract proposal is contingent upon AMF and management reaching an agreement on the matter. But AFM bylaws prohibit the musicians from voting on any contract containing information about digital media without approval from the AFM, Smith said.

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