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What Minnesota’s musicians are being forced to decide

Aribitration in Minnesota has produced an offer that the musicians are about to reject. Both sides are dug in so deep after 11 months of lock-out that neither can climb out.

From documents that we have seen but are not presently at liberty to quote, the offer is:

- the lockout would end September 1, 2013;

- the old contract would prevail for a two-month period of negotiations;

- however, if no agreement is reached on a new contract by that time, a two-year agreement would snap into effect wit 25% across-the-board pay cuts.

That’s the board side of the deal. The players’ Negotiating Committee calls this proposal ‘absurd and unacceptable’ They say it amounts to a demand that they agree to a destructive two-year contract as a condition of even restarting negotiations. The Negotiating Committee is calling on all musicians to reject the proposal.

After 110 years, this could be the day the music died.


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  1. PK Miller says:

    I am saddened… I had hoped for some sort of “happy ever after,” hoary cliché as that may be. I always maintained there are 2 sides to the story but no question, management are the “bad guys,” here. Seems like utter refusal for negotiate in good faith. The orchestra members would be bloody FOOLS to accept these terms. People will know whom to blame. I’m NOT a fan of unions. Those who have read my postings in Norman’s blog will understand that. My beloved mother had some very UN-lady like things to say about NY’s Civil Service Employees Union. We have a friend who worked for CSEA itself & the union treated its union employees like canine excrement. But when Management refuses to bargain in good faith, is determined to cause the demise of its union and the union members have made every conceivable good faith effort/proposal, it’s time for them to pull the plug. Adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, Good bye!” (Lawrence Welk’s sign off for years. Those of you on the other side of the “pond” forgive me. I could not, in one blog post, explain Lawrence Welk & his “Champagne Music!” He was CORNIER than Kansas in August but, like the equally immortal Ed Sullivan, had an uncanny ear for talent, inc. a “Champagne Lady,” the recently departed Norma Zimmer, a classically trained soprano. Forgive the digression!)

  2. No words…

  3. Tom Gossard says:

    As a classical music orchestral violinist, I am enraged! Even if I weren’t all that I’d still be enraged. If the powers that be had really any stake, other than $$, in their artistic property, they wouldn’t let it all go to waste in order to save a buck! The citizens of Minnesota, not to mention performing artists and classical music lovers, nationally and internationally, are ill-served by a bunch bankers. This is gross insult to civilization: real, mature civilization!

    • Don’t you mean “the citizens of Minnesota are ill-served by their refusal to pay enough in donations, taxes, higher ticket prices, etc. to support the high salaries desired by their orchestral musicians”?
      I’ll freely accept that management may have acted badly here – but if there isn’t enough money to sustain the previous level of salary expenditure, then clearly there has to be a cut somewhere, else the orchestra will cease to exist in a big black hole of debt within a couple of years anyway. There just isn’t a magic money tree, no matter how much we all might think the orchestra are worth it.

      • Margaret says:

        Well, there’s obviously enough money for a $50M hall renovation.
        While the fund-raising campaign for the hall renovation was taking place, there was never any mention that the quality of the orchestra was about to be severely downgraded due to lack of funds. If there had been an initiative to fundraise for the preservation of the QUALITY of the orchestra, it is possible (probably even likely) that fans and donors would have stepped up to the plate. Instead, the issue was swept under the rug, because some bankers saw an opportunity to bust a union.

        • George London says:

          Yes the hall shouldn’t have been remodeled and the public should have kept using a place that didn’t have enough fire sprinklers , atrocious handicap accommodations, safety hazards in the walk ways and no places for educations.

          Yes all of that money should have went to these musicians and not to ensure the future of classical music in Minnesota in a facility that could welcome all.

          • Have you finished the rant? Are you rational enough to recognise the damage the board’s hard-hat assault has wrought on the institution? If this were a bank, it would be bust.

          • George London says:

            Mr. Lebrecht,

            You are right if this was a bank or any business for that matter it would be bust, since the revenues don’t cover the expenses.

            This can be solved one of two ways, increase revenues or decrease expenses.

            Now hopefully classical music in the United States will have some type of revival and interest will increase and a decling patron group will be refreshed, but it appears that is not the case. Or one can hope for large donations to cover the gap, and not from the government…too much money is being spent on hobbies of the rich already just see professional sports.

            That leaves expenses to be cut. It is a sad reality.

            Now to blame management when it appears that the musicians never gave a counter offer or were willing to communicate makes them contributory as well.

            One could say the damage done by not being willing to negotiate is the real artifact of this year long mess.

            So the board are being stewards of the orchestra, since if they were to continue on the current course it would be bankrupt in a number of years.

          • You have elided my point and restated the obvious. This is not a bank. It’s an orchestra, depepndent on public and artist goodwill. The board have bulldozed it to the ground.

          • George London says:

            But that public goodwill is communicated via coins, and it appears the public doesn’t have as much goodwill as needed by the musicians.

            Now this is the real problem, either the musicians either have to adjust or more goodwill will be needed to be confiscated from the public.

            Or maybe more John Williams pieces played with those really cool audio visual displays behind ten

          • The point is that the donating public was not given the opportunity to know the full financial situation. Had mgmt been honest, I believe people would have been willing to donate more and to work together with mgmt and other stakeholders.

            It was not “just” salary that was the issue. It was the total control-grab by mgmt which believed they should have all artistic and other decision-making powers. It was the plan to turn the musicians into feudal court musicians who would play anything, anytime, in the sparkling new edifice for corporate sponsors.

            No “business” can survive by trashing its audience and its product. That is what we mean by the way for-profit “experts” are doing things in the nonprofit world which would get them fired from their own cushy jobs.

      • The bottom line is that we — meaning everybody else besides the MOA top “management” — don’t KNOW what the financial situation is of the orchestra because MOA top “management” has refused to open the books. I suspect that if they transparently presented all the facts from the very beginning and allowed all concerned parties to work together to find a creative solution than none of this fiasco would have had to happen. If the financial situation is as dire as being portrayed it could very well be that the musicians would have concurred that draconian salary/benefit cuts would be warranted. (That being said, MOA top “management” also tipped their hand that their motive was NOT to save the orchestra but to bust the union by insisting on dismantling years of carefully-negotiated work rules as well as decimating musician salaries.) Simple transparency on the part of those who hold all the financial information and this could be over rather quickly.

  4. Galen Johnson says:

    Let me get this straight. If the negotiations fail, an agreement automatically goes into effect that enshrines management’s rosiest hopes? There’s motivation for good-faith negotiations.

  5. Alright for Burt Hara, who got out while he still could. For every musician stuck, and the audience members with season tickets, and students who get inspired by seeing performances….it is extremely sad.

  6. Larry Wheeler says:

    The website states: “Our board and management have a responsibility to protect the Minnesota Orchestra for the long term and that means negotiating a contract that allows the organization to live within its financial means. We need an Orchestra that is both artistically and financially strong to benefit our audiences, supporters, community and musicians for years to come, and we will keep working with our musicians to arrive at an agreement that achieves this goal.”

    The contractual offer to the musicians appears to be accomplishing neither artistic nor financial security, and does little to protect the Minnesota Orchestra. The orchestra’s manager and board of bankers have figured that the cost of running a great orchestra is not within their financial means, and they also seem to know little of the artistic and cultural value of having one. It remains a deep mystery how the current decimation of this ensemble is of benefit to the audiences, supporters, community and musicians, either now or in years to come.

    The answer must lie with money–in the form of Orchestra Hall’s $50M renovation–as honor has long ago left the building. Whose banks guaranteed loans and whose jobs would be at stake in the event of default? Would board members potentially become financially responsible? Should the MO cease to exist, how would the $59M endowment and all assets be dispersed, and to whom? These are no longer inappropriate questions, if in fact they ever were.

    • PK Miller says:

      These are very good questions. They may have a brand new concert hall and NO orchestra to play in it–nice, expensive mausoleum! I realize the Board and management cannot take funds earmarked for one purpose and transfer to another account. I went through this when I was Board President of an area non profit. We had funds earmarked for a capital project–a new building that, 15 years later has not come to fruition and clients and employees yet unborn may never see it a reality. But the funds are encumbered and cannot be used for operating expenses. (The entity continues to lurch from financial crisis to financial crisis).But to also comment on “Anon’s” posting, there needs to be GOOD FAITH negotiations on BOTH sides. If there are financial difficulties management needs to be frank with the orchestra. Again, people can understand encumbered funds. Monies earmarked for Capital projects can’t be used for operating expenses but, what about the endowment? What restrictions are there on its use?

      And yes, it’s the season subscribers, ticket holder and the audience at large who will suffer. A reconstituted orchestra, certainly at far lesser pay and lesser quality even if operating under the Minnesota name–whatever the legalities–would be an embarrassment.

      It also speaks to the whole problem of funding the arts in the US. I listen to WAMC, Northeast Public Radio and am appalled at station breaks every 15-20 minutes w/recitation of “supports,” almost like commercial stations. indeed, our local public television station and WNET in NY have defacto COMMERCIALS. A major supporter can decide they don’t like something or a particular program or something said or even a particular piece “offends” them (one of the biggest industries in the US) they can pull their funding and leave the station hanging.

      We need to have a serious discussion on the funding of the arts from the schools all the way up. The next generation of symphony musicians and even the next Josh Bells, etc., must come from somewhere. Perhaps we have not lost our collective soul but never had it to lose.

  7. There seems to be some missing pieces here, per the Strib:

  8. Alexander Hall says:

    The ongoing shenanigans in Minnesota confirm once again what happens when all-powerful managements (and behind them the donors and sponsors without whom no show can be out on the road) determine not only the pay and conditions of the players but also who gets to be appointed their respective Music Director. We have had countless stories during the last few decades of conductors being given the push (Kurt Masur in New York, for instance) or others being appointed despite less than overwhelming support from the musicians themselves. The solution? Why don’t the members of the Minnesota Orchestra – those who are left, that is – do what the Wiener Philharmoniker did or what the LSO did way back and form their own self-governing cooperative? OK, things would be tough financially in the first instance, but at least they would be rid of bureaucrats and power-brokers, most of whom can’t read a note of music anyway.

    • The members of the Wiener Philharmoniker are state employees of the Vienna Opera, thus guaranteeing salaries in a culture that supports and loves music far more than here. All London orchestras with the exception of Covent Garden (Royal Ballet and Opera) and the BBC are essentially part-time jobs where musicians scramble to make ends meet freelancing in film, pop records, teaching, etc. Of course, they are helped by funding from the lottery. Then there’s the problem of where to play since Orchestra Hall is owned by the MOA. All this to indicate that it’s not that easy for musicians to start a new orchestra in Minneapolis.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        You are confusing the members of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, who are indeed employees with the state, with the Wiener Philharmoniker, a term I used advisedly. Membership of this ensemble is by invitation only and is on the basis of a self-governing cooperative. That was what I suggested for Minnesota. This kind of distinction is one that Karajan employed when he was still Conductor for Life in Berlin: Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester was not the same construct as Berliner Philharmoniker. The musicians won twice over: paid by the state and paid by Karajan and the recording companies for all their various media activities.
        I also doubt that rank-and-file players of the LSO, LPO and RPO would see themselves as part-time players. The reason so many of them end up doing other work is 1) they are not paid enough and choose to live and work in a city with an extremely high cost of living and 2) because London has traditionally been the place where musicians are used for adjunct activities in the recording industry.

  9. George London says:

    The babble about management is amazing, these are volunteers helping to lead a non profit and cause they won’t overpay musicians they are criminal.
    How about grab some of the few hundred musicians that aren’t working for each open spot, it might take a year or two to gel, but it would work.
    Or better yet why doesn’t the board and all of their donations walk away. Say yup we are fault.
    Then the musicians can triple the ticket prices cause that is what would be needed to cover the donations from the evil board.
    And then when patrons don’t want to pay $100 for tier three back of the hall tickets to listen to the same tired presentations (cause the union is also unflexible about how music is presented), the musicians can then complain about the stupid customers who only want pops concerts and copeland instead of the evil bankers.
    Then maybe they will finally realize the business model is important and it is good we have grown ups leading the board.

    • Larry Wheeler says:

      @George London- Since you have repeated your post elsewhere, I will do likewise.
      I find your profound ignorance in regard to orchestral musicians, unions, boards and managements, especially in this case, to be absolutely stunning.

    • The situation at the MO has progressed beyond demonizing either side. According to a Strib article by Graydon Royce, who has been a voice for the players throughout this difficult lockout, no ultimatum is being given nor voted on at this time.

      It seems fair to say that we too can benefit the players by maintaining as positive and constructive an attitude as possible.

      That there are negotiations going on is a tremendous move forward. Anything can be negotiated.

      • I do not agree that Royce has been a “voice for the players”. He has done some good reporting, but in the end he writes for a corporation whose publisher is on the MOA Board. Hence the “false equivalence” of “balance” and “both sides” being spouted by the mainstream press (which includes MPR).

        • That has been my impression, based on GR’s showing photos of a player, WS, with his articles more often than a photo of Mr. Vanska. I could be wrong.

          There seems to be quiet on both sides of the aisle right now, however, one way or another.

  10. I know most people who read this blog are inclined to sympathy for the musicians. I still think they shot themselves in the foot by not delivering a counter-offer to the original offer from management. They should not have been surprised that the first offer included deep cuts; saying “this is an insult!” and walking away from the table is a very, very risky way to start a negotiation and management clearly was not inclined to let them set the terms. So management overreacted and locked them out, and now here we are still in a pissing contest all these months later. I would argue no one was really acting in good faith here.

    • Let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re right that the musicians made a tactical error. That is NOT THE SAME as not acting in good faith.

    • Except that the players have always said that they would make a counteroffer as soon as management let an independent third-party auditor review the books so that the players could get a realistic and unbiased picture of the Minnesota Orchestra Association’s finances.

      And considering that the MOA management demonstrably lied to the musicians, the public and the Minnesota state government about the organization’s finances as recently as two years ago, the musicians were right to make that demand.

      Management consistently refused to allow an independent audit.

      Until this summer, management also refused to go to third-party arbitration, which the musicians had also been offering.

      This situation isn’t like the San Francisco Symphony musicians declaring a strike right before a tour because they just couldn’t stand it that there were two (two!) orchestras in the Western Hemisphere whose musicians were better paid than they were.

      The Minnesota Orchestra musicians have indicated all along that they’re willing to accommodate themselves to the orchestra’s financial position as long as they can have that position independently verified. When management won’t allow any such verification, can you really blame the players for being suspicious?

    • The MO players in the old days would probably not have allowed themselves to get backed into a corner. But now they consider themselves ‘the best’. It was even their habit, until recently, to misquote AR’s statement about the MO.

      Unfortunately, this attitude seems to have had a detrimental affect on their ability to fight for themselves in the real world, which, as the rest of us know, has its injustices and ups and downs and where people are not always treated with the respect commensurate with their talents. It is almost as though they had been led astray by a false piper.

      But hopefully, things are moving forward now…

  11. Performing Artist52 says:

    @Tomas2 The MOA stated that their ONLY off was a FINAL offer. What was to negotiate? The musicians did make counter offers in “talk and play” and binding arbitration. They also offered the proceeds of the “grammy nomination concert” as a jump start to “talk and play”. Please stop saying that they didn’t make a counter offer because thet did!

    The musicians made concessions in the last contract and offered more in 2010 but were turned down by the MOA as it wasn’t enough. If the musicians were given the true and complete financial history, this situation would be different. The musicians are not adverse to making sacrifices if it truly needed. But where are the personal financial sacrifices from Mr. Henson, Lily Schwartz,etc?

    In addidtion with over 250 changes to the master contract, the work environment would continue to be toxic.

    @George Landon – sounds like you work for the MOA.

    @MYnyc – Exactly!

  12. R. James Tobin says:

    Let’s just hope that George Mitchell can cool everybody down enough to create the conditions for serious negotiations and a viable settlement, starting with getting the board to ending the lockout and its pretense to negotiate within a two month period.

  13. Wayne A. Benjamin says:

    If the long suffering musicians of the MO are ultimately forced to take a pay cut for the orchestra to survive, here’s my suggestion. The musicians should then only play that percentage of each piece = to the reciprocal of the pay cut. So if they are hit with a 25% pay cut, they will only play three movements(75%), for example, of a four movement Beethovan symphony. The metric for non multiple movement pieces e.g. overtures will be 75% of the total number of measures of that piece. This suggestion will level the playing field so that the audiences will suffer a similar cut in their respective compensation for attending a concert !

    • R. James Tobin says:

      This is a terrible and unprofessional idea. With attitudes like that, reason could never prevail.

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