SPCO Is 2nd Locked-Out Twin Cities Orchestra

SPCO Is 2nd Locked-Out Twin Cities Orchestra

While the Minnesota Orchestra has been locked out all month, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra had continued working under a “play-and-talk” arrangement; but its musicians have now also been locked out, and performances are canceled through November 4.

Members of both of Minnesota’s world-class orchestras have now been locked out, as musicians remain at odds with their respective management teams over the terms of their labor contracts.

After 10 months of negotiations with musicians, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) President and Chair Dobson West wrote in a Sunday statement that musicians have been locked out and concerts have been canceled through November 4.

The SPCO lockout comes not long after the Minnesota Orchestra locked out its musicians. The Minnesota Orchestra lockout began October 1, immediately following the expiration of its labor contract, and it canceled concerts through November 25. (Its musicians, however, reportedly held their own sold-out concert last week, led by conductor emeritus Stanislav Skrowaczewski.)

The SPCO’s contract also expired at the end of September, but the two sides agreed to a “play-and-talk” proposal, which allowed musicians to continue playing under the terms of their existing contract while negotiations continued. But West said Sunday that “we cannot continue operating this way and exacerbating what is already a very serious deficit.”

Early last week, the musicians offered a short-term solution, proposing that they continue to play amid further negotiations, with a 10.5 percent salary reduction. Management rejected the offer.

The orchestra’s management told musicians that they had until 6 p.m. on Sunday to accept the latest contract offer or they would face a lockout. According to West, the management team’s latest proposal would have given existing musicians annual minimum compensation of $62,500, which is 15 percent less than their minimum annual salary last year. New musicians, meanwhile, would receive annual minimum compensation of $50,000.

Carole Mason Smith, chair of the SPCO musicians’ negotiating committee, wrote in a Sunday statement that the orchestra’s management aims to reduce the size of the ensemble and cut pay by 33 percent, not 15 percent. The musicians contend that, when accounting for the reduction in base salary and “overscale”—essentially overtime paid to musicians for special performances—average pay will drop from $93,280 to $62,500 under the management team’s latest proposal.

Smith claims that it would be “impossible to retain and recruit talented musicians” under that proposal.

Both of the Twin Cities’ premier orchestras are battling financial difficulties. Since 2008, the SPCO has reduced annual expenses by $1.5 million—largely through a 17 percent reduction in staff and the elimination of staff salary increases and pension contributions, according to West.

The union has requested that the organization raise ticket prices to help alleviate its financial problems. West claims, however, that lowered ticket prices have boosted attendance and net ticket revenue, and it has “resonated with donors”—meaning increased prices could hinder fundraising efforts.

A spokesman for the musicians said that no further negotiations have been scheduled. According to West’s Sunday letter, the two sides are “not close to an agreement.”

The SPCO said that individuals who hold tickets for canceled concerts will receive e-mails about their options, including refunds or exchanging tickets for other concerts, and additional information will be posted on the SPCO website.