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Locked-Out St. Paul Musicians Make Last-Minute Move

Musicians rejected the latest contract offer but then proposed a few amendments—just hours before management was scheduled to meet and discuss the organization’s future.

Locked-Out St. Paul Musicians Make Last-Minute Move

The April 8 deadline for Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) musicians to reach a deal or risk cancelation of the remainder of this season passed without a resolution.

But Tuesday morning, just hours before the orchestra’s board of directors was scheduled to convene and discuss the future of the organization, the musicians’ union requested last-minute amendments to management’s offer and said it was poised to take a vote once the changes were made.

Management responded that the union must commit by 4 p.m. Tuesday to recommend management's previous offer in order to avoid additional concert cancelations; musicians' amendments could be discussed during a "play-and-talk" period included in management's offer, the organization said.

The Lockout, and the Mayor's Intervention

Orchestra management locked out musicians in October, as leadership claimed it needed to dramatically reduce costs and the two sides were unable to agree on a labor contract.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman intervened last month, spurring management to put forth a sweetened offer. The pitch boosted annual base pay to $60,000 from the previously proposed $56,000 (which would still represent a cut from musicians’ $73,732 salary for the 2011 to 2012 season). Management said an agreement must be ratified by Monday, or else the remainder of the season would be canceled.

Musicians responded that language regarding digital media use must be removed by management or resolved by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) before SPCO orchestra musicians can officially vote on the proposal. The players held a non-binding vote, however, and rejected the offer last week.

Coleman intervened again, stating in a Friday letter to musicians that management had addressed outstanding concerns. The musicians’ negotiating committee responded that it would not recommend ratification because of remaining issues that must be addressed by the AFM, among other things.

Coleman was unconvinced: “Any remaining differences are either minor or negligible,” the mayor told musicians. “None of your remaining concerns, in my opinion, rise to the level of importance that would be worth jeopardizing the long-term viability of this orchestra.”

A Last-Minute Move After the Deadline Passes

Still, Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline passed quietly. SPCO President Dobson West said in a Monday evening statement that the orchestra’s board would meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday “to discuss the future of the SPCO.” Management will make “formal announcements of next steps” once the meeting concludes, he added.

In a last-minute effort Tuesday morning, the musicians' negotiating committee requested that management remove certain information regarding the AFM, alter a date pertaining to retirement packages, and amend language regarding an artistic review committee. If the amendments are made, the union’s negotiating committee will bring the deal before musicians and recommend that they ratify it, Lynn Erickson, a spokeswoman for SPCO musicians, told Twin Cities Business in a Tuesday phone interview. “I’m sure that it would pass,” she said.

Even if management declines the amendments, musicians will still vote on management's proposal once it provides complete legal documents, according to Erickson.

West responded by email that management would provide full legal documents for musicians to vote on. He stressed, however, that the previously set deadline for avoiding more concert cancelations had passed, and the union must agree by 4 p.m. Tuesday to recommend management's offer, or "the board will need to proceed accordingly." Musicians' amendments could be discussed during a "play-and-talk" period included in management's offer, he added.

“If the negotiating committee wishes to change the direction of the board’s conversation this afternoon, it will require the unequivocal commitment that you will take our proposal submitted to the mayor on April 5 to a vote after we have reached agreement with the AFM, with your recommendation that it be ratified,” West said.

Jessica Etten, a spokeswoman for SPCO’s management organization, told Twin Cities Business that Tuesday afternoon’s board meeting would focus on more than just the remainder of this orchestra season. For example, the dispute has had a negative affect on fundraising, and the organization is behind schedule for selling tickets for next season, which has not been scheduled in light of the lockout. “This is larger than just a ‘canceling concerts’ issue,” she said.

West has even said that one alternative would be suspending operations altogether, according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio.

A group called Save Our SPCO, which comprises concertgoers and orchestra donors, recently said it is exploring the option of creating an entirely new orchestra organization, in the event that no contract deal is reached with current management. The group formed an exploratory committee—which includes state lawmakers, former SPCO members, and others—to examine the feasibility of forming a new, sustainable organization.

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