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MN Orchestra Players: We Rejected New Contract Offer

Orchestra management has asked musicians to vote on its offer, which would not eliminate the orchestra’s budget deficit, by September 9. But musicians say they already rejected the proposal.

MN Orchestra Players: We Rejected New Contract Offer

Minnesota Orchestra’s management team said Thursday that it has provided its locked-out musicians a revised contract proposal—one that includes a less significant salary cut and that it hopes will lead to the end of a drawn-out labor dispute.

Orchestra management said that its board negotiating committee approved the revised offer and has asked the musicians’ bargaining team to bring the deal to the full orchestra for a vote by September 9.

The musicians said in a statement, however, that they already rejected the offer. The new deal, which wasn't made public until now, had been offered previously through the office of Senator George Mitchell, a spokesperson for the players said. Mitchell has been working with management and musicians in confidential discussions to establish ground rules for a mediated negotiation.

On Thursday, musicians distributed a letter from management that says, “This offer is submitted outside the provisions of the Mediation Agreement between the parties and Senator Mitchell.” In other words, the musicians contend that orchestra management is circumventing the very mediator they recommended and abandoning the confidential negotiations they've been having.

Management said its latest offer calls for musicians to return to work on September 30 at their previous contract rates for a two-month period of “play-and-talk” negotiations involving a mediator. If no agreement is reached in that two-month window, musicians would be guaranteed an annual average salary of $102,200 per musician over the course of the two-year deal. That would reportedly represent a 24 percent salary cut from the previous contract. Including benefits, average musician compensation would be $135,000 under the new proposal, management said.

The new offer is compared to an $89,000 average annual salary outlined in a proposal made last September. The latest offer also changes “overscale” pay—reducing it by 25 percent across the board, compared to a range of 22 percent to 40 percent in the previous offer. Benefits packages and vacation time remain unchanged from the September proposal.

The latest offer also includes a “revenue split” provision that says, if the orchestra meets its budget, a third of any excess revenue would be paid out to musicians on a pro-rata basis.

Orchestra management pointed out that the sweetened contract offer would not, however, remedy its financial problems. In fact, over the course of the two-year contract, the organization would accrue a deficit of $2.2 million.

“Our aim was to eliminate our deficit entirely,” the orchestra’s Board Chair Jon Campbell said in a statement. “But the board has put forward this compromise in the hopes of getting musicians back on the stage and audiences back in Orchestra Hall in time to launch a new season.”

Richard Davis, chair of the orchestra management’s board negotiating committee and CEO of Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp, said in a statement that the board is "flexible in how we might structure a solution, but it is important to us to be able to guarantee our concertgoers a complete season of concerts even as negotiations proceed.”

The new proposal was made public shortly after Music Director Osmo Vänskä said that in order to allow preparation time for the Minnesota Orchestra’s planned November performances at Carnegie Hall, musicians would need to be in rehearsals the week of September 30. Management responded that to meet that deadline, a contract agreement would need to be reached by September 15. Vänskä wrote in an April letter that he would resign if Carnegie canceled the concerts due to the lockout.

Davis said that management’s latest proposal “offers a chance to save our entire 2013-14 season for home audiences and to maintain the Carnegie Hall performances which Osmo Vänskä has noted are personally very important to him.”

Musicians, meanwhile, said in their Thursday statement that they "have offered management numerous paths to a solution, and at every point management has rejected or delayed a collaborative approach to the future of the Minnesota Orchestra." They said that they accepted a plan from Mitchell and they "urge management to accept it and return to the table to negotiate ingood faith."

"If management had accepted the mediator Mitchell’s independent proposal the musicians would be back to work now, and the tenure of Osmo Vänskä, the Carnegie series and the season would have started on time," the players said.

Minnesota Orchestra management locked out musicians last October. Musicians rejected a contract that would cut pay by more than 30 percent, and earlier this year, the stalemate forced orchestra management to cancel the rest of its season that ended in June.

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra recently ended a similar labor dispute when locked-out musicians ratified a three-year contract with orchestra management.

Earlier this year, Twin Cities Business columnist Sarah Lutman dug into the economics of orchestras, suggesting that much can be learned from their struggles, even in unrelated industries.

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