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This is now America’s longest lasting orchestral lockout

It will be six months on Monday since Michael Henson’s administration locked the musicians out of the Minnesota Orchestra.


Henson was demanding wage cuts in the order of $40,000 a player. The musicians argued this was unjustified at a time the organisation was spending $50 million on a new lobby. The two sides have hardly talked in half a year. Henson has been accused in the state legislature of ‘destroying the arts’.  A handful of players have found better jobs in other orchestras.

None of America’s top ten orchestras has been involved in so protracted and intransigent a dispute within living memory (though smaller Louisville locked out its musicians for a year, readmitting them last May). There is no sign of any thaw in Minnesota’s winter of discontent. Graydon Royce, who has covered the dispute with admirable thoroughness, has just filed a half-year article. Read, and weep.

musicians for minn

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  1. Wing-chi Chan says:

    I strongly believe all devoted musicians of the “former Minnesota Orchestra” could eventually find jobs from other comparative institutes. However Mr. Hensen would never have the same kind of luck or opportunity to hunt for jobs once he had to leave from Minneapolis. Probably except Atlanta and St. Paul’s, none of any major orchestras could have been governed by a Board of Directors who were willing to let one CEO putting their best-from-the-state musicians to be in hunger for more than six months but simultaneously pay millions of dollars to this CEO and his staff members who all have been fully paid but with no normal work duty?! Such kind of capricious governor-ship from its Board should be subjected to a thorough investigation for allegedly violation of tax-exempt compliance by both the State Comptroller and IRS if there is any. All public and private grant/donation givers should have the right to ask for money back from this governing Board!! Salute to the dignified musicians who have been out of jobs for being a group of true musicians!!

    • I would bet that board members of many orchestras are watching this situation to see how it plays out – i.e. if they can pull the same stunt at their orchestras. This is the “business model” currently being advocated, indirectly if not directly, by the League of American Orchestras. The chair of that organization is Lowell Noteboom, one of the “executive committee” board members of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Society.
      The SPCO musicians have been locked out for nearly as long, and both orchestra associations share the same law firm making a specialty of employee lockouts (e.g. Crystal Sugar and the MN Wild hockey team, both also in MN).. None of this is coincidental

    • Maryann Goldstein says:

      “Such kind of capricious governor-ship from its Board should be subjected to a thorough investigation for allegedly violation of tax-exempt compliance by both the State Comptroller and IRS if there is any.”

      Good idea! An IRS audit to look at compliance with non-profit status rules might be quite productive!

      And as I understand it, Mr. Henson had experience with running afoul of UK non-profit status guidelines when he was at Bournemouth… so it ought to be a piece of cake for him to deal with such an investigation.

  2. Amy Adams says:

    Here is the chair of management’s negotiating committee…He wants the players to take cuts in pay.

  3. sarn oliver says:

    Henson needs to be fired. The sooner the better. The destruction of an arts organization as great as The Minnesota Orchestra should not be rewarded by paying another day of salary to anyone associated with creating this travesty. Anyone responsible for this ludicrous policy should be terminated immediately and considered a pariah by all arts organizations.

  4. sarn oliver says:

    Henson’s raising, spending or budgeting 50 million for a building while effectively silencing the musicians and music that is the core mission of The Minnesota Orchestra is clearly a delusional act. If there is no orchestra playing, what need is there for a building? Does he intend to hold zen meditation retreats in the new building with his audience? What can he be thinking? Or perhaps he’s not….

  5. Sandi Sherman says:

    This “corporate model” is nothing other than business as usual in the capitalist system. The Regents at the U of M are following the same business model, where executives are enjoying the kinds of salaries corporate big wigs “earn” while a college education is more out of reach than ever for working class youth, and staff at the bottom of pay scales (who do the work I might add) are working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. It is the same model that the Minnesota Zoo has just announced – to invest in “entertainment” at the expense of the conservation and education mission of the zoo. It is too easy to paint Michael Henson as some kind of greedy fat cat out of step with the rest of the arts community, but this is happening all around the country and will continue to deepen as long as we live under the dictatorship of capital.

  6. Henson has become the lightening rod who may or may not be responsible for all of the MSO management’s decisions. There is after all a Board of Directors with supposedly ultimate authority. It might be helpful to examine each of them individually and the organizations to which they are answerable- e.g. institutions like Wells Fargo, US Bancorp, General Mills, Cargill, 3M, etc., (as well as those honorary Board members, such as the Mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul and the President of the University of Minnesota). As for the union, get some teeth in this and rally other unions (if they’re not already bought off) to threaten to shut down the whole enterprise. The media, where are they? Also online petition campaigns. Demonstrate at concerts sponsored by management, and at public facilities generally. Get the music schools and students involved (University of Minnesota, St. Olaf, etc.) Hold teach-ins. Let them know that this is not only a localized dispute, but also an example of union busting and wealth transfer that is hitting every sector of society, and, moreover, not merely driven by the domestic economy, but also by our war and global economic policy and its tremendous costs. People need to think critically, talk, spread the message, inform the public and keep the ball in the air, join together in coalitions, and demand accountability from everyone and every company that is behind this. (And if they need to raise more than a few dollars to hire a lobbyist- it would be very expensive- to wire the system from their end, so be it.) And for the musicians, keep performing and include your message in every program, and get some big names (Itzhak, Yo Yo, and more than a few rock stars, etc.) to come to Minneapolis and St. Paul, etc., to raise some $ and help in your fight. It is the same here as in Europe, so in the end it requires solidarity between musicians and others everywhere the system is squeezing the little guy. Call it free market politics, or whatever you will, but get in the trenches and fight for your rights and your ability to earn a fair wage.
    (Finally, be aware that the Free Trade Treaty between the U.S. and Europe and the TPP between the US and the Pacific nations will strip much, more away from state sovereignty, and will allow the international financial institutions and hedge funds (the George Soros’ of whatever political persuasion) to buy up Europe on the cheap with their hot money. So this ain’t chopped liver that’s at risk. It’s much, much more, and what’s happened in Spain, Greece and Cyprus are the tip of the iceberg..)

    • Amy Adams says:

      Wow, Ed…you’re covering a lot of ground here. Some of it is already in place (online petitions), and as to getting a helping hand from Itzhak or Yo Yo…I’m thinking that might not be so realistic. :-) As to the media, well, there has been coverage (we’re commenting on some of it right now, see?).

  7. Amy- I haven’t looked at the roster of soloists who have performed with the Minnesota Orchestra (and made lots of money doing it). Maybe now is the time for them to help out their fellow musicians. Certainly, no harm in making the case that it is in their interest as well.

  8. Wing-chi Chan says:

    If every musician and Henson, so as every management staff, take 10-15 % pay cut that simultaneously let every Board member raise up 10-15 % of their donation. That will be a full authentic cadence!??

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