SPCO Players Reject Offer; More Concerts to Be Canceled

SPCO Players Reject Offer; More Concerts to Be Canceled

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians have rejected a labor contract offer, spurring the orchestra’s management to plan additional concert cancellations.

Musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) said Wednesday that they unanimously rejected a labor contract offer from the orchestra’s management—and thus the musicians remain locked out.

And as a result of the prolonged dispute, management announced Thursday that concerts will be canceled through December 31st.

Orchestra management set an October 21 deadline for musicians to accept their offer; when the players failed to vote prior to the deadline, they were locked out, and the orchestra’s management announced that concerts would be canceled through November 4. (The Minnesota Orchestra’s management also recently locked out its musicians, and it too canceled concerts.)

The SPCO musicians said Wednesday that they have now formally rejected the offer “on the grounds that it would allow management to terminate musicians at any time with no recourse, drastically reduce their salary and benefits, and even more drastically lower the guaranteed salary of musicians yet to join the orchestra.”

Dobson West, president The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Society, said in a statement that he is “very disappointed” that the musicians rejected the proposal “without any counterproposal or comment.”

The proposal would have given current musicians minimum annual compensation of $62,500, which is 15 percent less than their minimum annual salary last year, according to orchestra management. Meanwhile, new musicians hired after the contract is approved would receive annual minimum compensation of $50,000.

The musicians have said that the pay cuts would actually be about 33 percent, not 15 percent, under management's proposal when accounting for the reduction in base salary and “overscale”—additional compensation that is negotiated on an individual basis.

“Our goal is to preserve the artistic excellence of the SPCO in a fiscally responsible way, for our supporters and for this community,” Lynn Erickson, an SPCO musician and spokesperson for the players’ negotiating team, said in a statement. “We want to resume negotiations as soon as possible and hope that a mutually agreeable solution can be quickly achieved.”

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 orchestra’s annual budget is roughly $11 million, and it faces a deficit of about $1 million.

West said that the union requested projections regarding the cost savings associated with management’s proposal, presumably to prove that the proposal would save more money than the $1.5 million that management previously indicated. During the most recent round of negotiations, the orchestra’s management provided the requested information, which “demonstrated that our proposal would not result in more savings than previously stated,” West said.

Because the musicians have not put forth a new proposal since September 25 and rejected management’s offer, the two sides “are not close to an agreement,” West said.

West announced Thursday that the next negotiation session will take place on November 8.