MN Orchestra Players Reject Management’s Latest Offer

MN Orchestra Players Reject Management’s Latest Offer

The musicians’ negotiating committee said they rejected management’s latest contract offer.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians, who have been locked out since last October amid an ongoing labor dispute, said Thursday that they held two new votes.

Tim Zavadil, clarinet player and chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee, spoke in front of Orchestra Hall to a crowd of reporters and supporters of the players. He said that his team unanimously rejected a contract offer that was recently made public by orchestra management; meanwhile, the union also voted to reaffirm its support for returning to a mediator’s earlier proposal.

Minnesota Orchestra’s management team last week announced that it had provided its locked-out musicians a revised contract proposal—one that includes a less significant salary cut than previously proposed and that it hoped would lead to the end of the drawn-out dispute.

“We are disappointed that the musicians have rejected our compromise proposal, which would have allowed our season to begin on time for concertgoers,” orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson said in an e-mailed statement. “If the players are not willing to accept this proposal, we ask them to respectfully step forward with one of their own. In 17 months of negotiations, they have never issued their own counterproposal.”

Management’s latest offer called 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 were 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.

But musicians responded that the two sides had been working under the direction of mediator Senator George Mitchell, and by taking their offer public, management was effectively circumventing the very mediator they recommended and abandoning the confidential negotiations.

“We do not believe that a 25 percent cut in pay keeps the Minnesota Orchestra as a world-class, major-league destination orchestra,” Zavadil said.

Zavadil said musicians want to return to a negotiating framework previously agreed upon by both sides and put forth by Mitchell, adding that “the best way forward is to listen to the only independent voice involved in the process.” He said musicians reaffirmed their support for a proposal put forth by Mitchell but rejected by management. That proposal would have reportedly ended the lockout and allowed players to return to work for four months while continuing to negotiate a longer-term contract.

“The board continues to support the mediation process, and we would be happy to sit down this afternoon with the musicians to mediate without preconditions,” Henson said in his e-mailed statement. “Unfortunately, the musicians are the party that will not come back to the bargaining table.”

Henson said that the mediator’s confidential proposal referenced by musicians “is not a contract proposal—it was only suggested as a means of getting musicians to come to the bargaining table.”

Earlier this week, a new review of the orchestra’s finances was released, showing the organization faces significant challenges going forward. (See the full report here.)

The musicians subsequently asked orchestra management to publicly release updated financial reports, budgets, and forecasts, including the cost of the Orchestra Hall renovation, fiscal-year 2013 finances, and a 2014 fundraising plan, among other things. Musicians said the latest analysis “was bought and paid for by management” and is “based on assumptions, opinions, and data provided solely by management without input from any outside sources or industry experts.”

A spokesperson for orchestra management told the Star Tribune that the board will announce fiscal 2013 financials “as soon as we are accurately able to do so.”

Richard Davis, chairman of the orchestra’s negotiating team, recently told the Minneapolis newspaper that management will stand firm, despite the looming prospect of the departure of Music Director Osmo Vänskä, the cancellation of key concerts at Carnegie Hall, and delaying the start of the next concert season.

“Osmo may have to leave,” Davis told the newspaper. “The board is resolved to know that that is a risk. Carnegie, the opening of the hall. All three may have to fall.”

Zavadil said musicians were “outraged” by Davis’ comments.