an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Minnesota musicians reject new deal, saying it’s not new

Within hours of receiving a softened offer from the board, union negotiators threw it out, saying it was a proposal they had already rejected and accusing the Minnesota Orchestra management of bypassing its own mediator.

After nearly a year of lockout, there is no trust left between the two sides. Both head back to the trenches. Grim local report here. The Musicians’ committee update is here.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Alexander Hall says:

    I have said it before and I will say it again: musicians can also be too greedy. If the Minnesota musicians think that a guaranteed average salary of over $100,000 per annum is beneath their dignity, let them come to London and see what fine music-making there is on earnings far, far below what their transatlantic cousins regard as acceptable.

    • @Alexander,
      Firstly, as someone who has worked both sides of the Atlantic, there’s no comparing European and American salaries. American salaries are generally much higher because there are many expenses (employee health insurance contribution vs more fully government subsidized health care, saving for children’s education vs government subsidized higher education, saving for retirement vs government pensions, etc) that really make a huge difference. 2 colleagues of mine were comparing their Finnish and German salaries. Due to taxes, pensions, and health care costs, the Finnish salary while a much lower gross amount was actually worth more after all the expenses were taken out. And compare those to an American salary: the American orchestra salary is generally higher (for the top orchestras) but there are so many things that Europeans just don’t need to save/spend money on.
      Secondly, it’s not greed compelling them to demand their salary, it’s in order to stay competitive with other orchestras in the US that are offering similar or higher salaries. To attract the best musicians the MO has to compete by offering an industry standard salary. Young musicians are generally trying to move up to the best orchestra they can get into before settling down, which usually correlates to the best paying (in your opinion would this greed or professional/artistic ambition?). The current MO musicians are trying to ensure the ability of their orchestra in the future to attract top calibre players.

      • Christina Arden says:

        Well said, David. You have described the vast differences between expenses in various European countries and the US as well.

        The orchestra here in Rochester, NY (2nd tier?) starts salaries at about $40,000, which is definitely underpaid. Yet the musicians and union fully support the Minnesota musicians, and have contributed to their lockout fund.

        @Alexander – a little more solidarity and a lot less name-calling is in order.

        • Alexander Hall says:

          Solidarity? You have a strange idea of human nature. Why have so many principal players already left the Minnesota orchestra to go to more lucrative positions elsewhere? Is that solidarity? The communist principle is, of course, to pay everybody exactly the same salary. That’s solidarity for you, but look where it got the USSR and the entire economic system in eastern Europe.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        The old adage is that you can only cut the coat according to the cloth you have at your disposal. If the money isn’t there – and presumably in the competitive world we all inhabit that means in the Minnesotan case all the revenue streams coming in – you can’t spend it. The British motor car industry was destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s by trade unions who went on demanding more and more money from admittedly incompetent management until one by one car factories had to close and all those jobs were lost. The situation in any country is exactly the same: you can price yourself out of the market by being unreasonable in your demands and becoming ultimately uncompetitive.
        I don’t accept the point about Minnesota needing to be competitive with all other US orchestras. Paying musicians in provincial orchestras less than the going rate demanded in capital cities in Europe has not stopped fine bodies of musicians with home-grown talent developing. Two examples in the UK alone spring to mind: the CBSO and the RLPO.
        Nor do I accept the argument that poor hard-done-by musicians in the US have so much more expenditure than their laughing-all-the-way-to-the-bank counterparts in Europe. Employees in European countries have to contribute to medical insurance (national insurance in the UK), unemployment insurance and pension schemes. And – in case it has escaped some people’s attention – taxation rates (VAT, income tax) are far higher in European countries (Scandinavia, in particular) than in the US, where avoiding tax is much easier than it is in most European countries.

        • Hey, I completely agree that unions have done as much harm as good in many cases. But lets not forget that the AFM is not UAW, for example. But what union in the history of capitalism has ever been called greedy for arguing against a ~30% pay cut? The musicians asking to have a smaller than ~30% pay cut (note I say smaller, for they have offered to take a pay cut) is not going to cripple the organization like the exorbitant pensions of the American auto industry. If you haven’t been following the situation, the management has misled the musicians, the donors, and the state of Minnesota since around 2008, falsely reporting their budget numbers. So there is little faith when they say that these pay cuts are absolutely financially necessary when they’ve lied about the finances in the past.
          Also, I don’t know understand what your quibble is about MO needing to be competitive. It’s not a provincial orchestra, its a top 10 orchestra in the country. And that’s a country nearly the size of entire western Europe, so you can’t compare it to small market orchestras in England (no offense to Birmingham, its a great orchestra). And home grown talent? You mean like, kids growing up in Minnesota aspiring only to play there? I think most people cast their nets a little wider.
          And I think you’re misunderstanding my comments about expenditures. I don’t mean to say that Europeans are laughing to the bank. But I KNOW that €40000 is easier to live on in Europe (yes even Scandinavia) than $40000 in a major US city. Middle class is easier attained with a lower overall salary. Why? I don’t know, I’m not a sociologist, but it’s just quite obvious looking around.

      • Let me get this right – are you really saying that players don’t think they need a high salary themselves per se, but they want it so their orchestra can continue to attract good players from elsewhere? How noble and selfless of them to demand a large pay packet, just to make sure the group can fill the occasional vacant position!

  2. Well said, Alexander. Sounds like a case of greed if that’s the salary being quoted and guaranteed. I wish I could earn that in a year as soloist!!

    • Albert Lee says:

      Agreed. The more red tape the musician’s union introduces to this the more likely there will be a second year of silence.

    • Una, see comments above regarding the differences between U.S. and European salaries.

      Also be aware – and this is not new – that over 250 changes to the working conditions and the previous contract were proposed by management, and they announced straight off that they would not budget. Fun things like people being able to hire the musicians for birthday parties.

  3. Performing Artist52 says:

    Go to the musicians website Norman. They have not rejected this newest proposal. They are reviewing it carefully before voting on it. Yes, this proposal may have been similiar to one that they received from management earlier in August but it was not the one that Senator Mitchell proposed. The musician actually accepted Senato Mitchell’s proposal! Management rejected it.

    This latest proposal outside of the mediation process will in effect be a 24% pay cut as I don’t believe the board has any intention of negotiating in good faith for the two months where then the cut would automatically take place for 2 years.

  4. James Brinton says:

    Given the board’s disdainful and cruel (e.g., denial of health insurance) treatment of them over the past year, and the MOA’s “my way or the highway” style of–well, you can’t really call it negotiation–I’m glad the musicians rejected the offer. It bypasses the board’s own mediator, George Mitchell, and remains fragrant with the testosterone that seems to have poisoned MOA management.
    My suspicion is that Henson would not have come up with this unless he smelled smoke, and indeed, public opinion does seem to be mobilizing on the side of the musicians.
    Throughout this affair, people have forgotten that orchestral musicians of this caliber work longer and harder than physicians to develop and maintain their talents. If one wants to make salary comparisons, those with medical professionals are more appropriate.
    Finally, I hope we all notice that there is no mention of a fund raising campaign to restore the endowment and/or meet ongoing needs. The MOA just completed raising approximately $50 million for hall renovations, while totally ignoring their operating deficit and attempting to make up that debt on the bodies of their musicians. Why is the board willing to raise and spend money on architecture, but not on the art it is meant to house?

  5. The MOA has certainly made some mistakes in this dispute, but my lord, these musicians are behaving like spoiled, entitled brats. All we hear is NO! NO! NO! Everybody and their mother is taking a 15% cut (Nashville, Atlanta, Philadelphia) or more (Detroit, etc.). Why not present the counter and get this over with instead of throwing another temper tantrum? Geez……..

    • Performing Artist52 says:

      They are not behaving like spoiled ,entitled brats Alvarus. Would you agree to a 24% pay cut? Because this is what the offer amounts to. The board has no intention of negotiating for the next two months and this will force the musicians to take a 24% pay cut for two years. None of the Vice Presidents or directors of the MOA have taken a 24% paycut. If the pay cut would include Michael Henson, the VP’s and directors then there may be some equality here. Perhaps you need to read more about this before you pass judgment.

      • I would agree to a 24% pay cut faced with the choice between having a job I loved and not having one, sure. This would put the musicians back to 2007 levels. How many now unemployed journalists would LOVE to have their jobs back paid at 2007 levels? The trend for orchestra income in the US has been down for 20 plus years and will continue sliding. EVERYONE will have to adjust.

        My guess is that the MOA would settle for a 15% cut at this point. Why on earth do the musicians continue to refuse to negotiate? What is their proposal? And yes, everyone else should take one too, if they have not already done so. Shared sacrifice should prevail.

        • Performing Artist52 says:

          I agree with some of your points Alvarus, however two points I do disagree with. I do not know if other business have asked for such drastic cuts in employee salaries. Wage freezes and lay off’s are probably how deficits are handled. It would be awful to be laid off and difficult to find a job but hopefully enough notice was given to them. The musicians do understand the need to close the deficit gap.

          The musicians have made counter proposals that management has rejected. The management stated at the very beginning that their offer was a FINAL offer. There wasn’t much to negotiate. The musicians did offer counter proposals that were rejected by management. In addition the musicians did accept the offer made by Senator Mitchell but the management rejected it even when they wanted Senator Mitchell as the negotiator. I do not see Michael Henson, Lily Schwartz, Bob Neu and Brian Ebensteiner stepping up and offering to take a large pay cut.

          • I see your points as well. The MOA did say their offer was final a year or so ago, and I think this is one of the many mistakes they made. If indeed that was truly the best the MOA could offer, I don’t understand why they didn’t deem it ‘last, best and final’ under labor law and let the musicians strike. This, in my opinion, was a strategic mistake on their part. I haven’t seen too much info on any musician counter proposals, so we are all opining in the dark, to some extent. And the onerous working condition proposals were another strategic mistake.

            I still think there is a deal to be had, if both negotiation parties rise to the occasion, come to the table and talk, despite all that has happened. Shared sacrifice will have to be part of a solution, as will a willingness by the musicians to roll back salaries to some previous level. Mistakes have been made all around, and now is the time to work out a solution before it’s too late. There is too much at stake, and the precipice is in sight.

        • Alvarus, please education yourself on everything that the negotiations and mediation have entailed. They agreed to significant concessions in mediation led by the mediator who had been proposed by management. Management not only rejected that offer, but made an end-run around the process in order to counter the significant negative publicity and audience ill-will that is being generated.

          • Sarah dear, 6% won’t get a deal. I think it is more productive to look forward to what it will take to end this than to look backward. Both negotiating parties have made mistakes and behaved badly to one degree or another. Finger pointing just isn’t productive at this point. What will it take to get a deal?

    • Amy Adams says:

      Alvarus, that’s nasty and offensive. Knock off the name-calling.
      And you do NOT hear “NO NO NO…” that’s in your imagination. The musicians have always been ready to talk, its management who’s held the keys to the locked doors the whole time.

      • James Brinton says:

        I am amazed at the level of trolling on this. It’s as if some people see the word ‘union’ and lose all rationality, then steam comes out of their ears. Ditto for the word ‘employee’ which seems to be a synonym for serf.
        Nor do they seem to take account of the fact that Henson did not arrive in the US riding a white horse, but could charitably be described as having a worse than mediocre career in Britain. Apparently no one there was sorry to see him go.
        The refrain is that unions are evil, that the musicians are evil because they joined a union, and that management, despite some pretty obvious mistakes and a set of goals that would eventually deprive Minnesota of a world-class cultural resource–despite all that, management can do no wrong. Management is trustworthy and the union/musicians are not.
        I have to wonder if Anon, George London (sic), et al, are in some way employed by the MOA board and/or Henson. Certainly their arguments are completely one-sided, and their rhetoric reminds me of the less sane members of the Tea Party.

        • I am amazed that anyone who dares to say ANYTHING negative about the musicians’ position is labeled a troll. Both the MOA and the musicians have made major mistakes in this debacle. Assigning blame at this late date is not productive. It is time for the two negotiating parties to come together and work out a deal. Both have got to get out of the trenches. Both have got to put the audience and community first. There are two options: get a deal, or go out of business. Each one is viable … which will it be?

          • The “troll” shoe fits…you pretend the musicians are throwing tantrums…and claim finger pointing is unproductive, while doing just that yourself.
            The musicians, unlike management, unlike the board, have a real relationship with their patrons. They respond through a variety of means of communication.

            Finger pointing is in fact necessary, as our country’s recent history with banks and investment houses has shown.

  6. What is an expert in their field worth people? The city can support a professional baseball team and football team, and they get paid millions of dollars, but it can’t support a world class orchestra? Its offensive really. Management asking the players to take a $40K pay cut, but not taking one themselves? Also, extremely offensive. These musicians have spent decades perfecting their craft, and are some of the best musicians in the country. As a graduate of the u of MN music school, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had such a phenomenal ensemble as a part of my education – both as an audience member, and as a student coached by these expert performers. IMO, a class A orchestra member DESERVES a 6 figure salary. No one has a CLUE how much work these musicians do outside of the concert hall. Una and Alexander, you need to think a little more before you accuse the musicians of being greedy. You get asked to take a 30% pay cut and see how happy and respected you feel.

    • Not to put to fine a point on it, but an expert is worth whatever they can get an individual or group to pay them.

      The Twin Cities actual support many professional sports teams, many of whose players make considerably less than the musicians. We have a very succesful WNBA team.Their HIGHEST ALLOWABLE salaray in 2010 was $102,000. Really though, the sports analogies are generally built on false dicotomies and are not instructive.

  7. I see both sides. On one hand, I am a conservatory trained musician who has worked at similarly high levels of the music industry as many Minnesota Orchestra players, and I earn half their salary — and live in NEW YORK CITY. So I would be delighted to get a contract for $100.

    On the other hand, when your salary is being cut considerably, and the management are offering themselves massive executive packages and doing demoralizing, hurtful things to maintain their administrative privileges, I can well understand why these salary cuts would be unacceptable.

    In the end, however, they are not the only orchestra (or teachers union, or fill in the blank) that are being victimized by irresponsible and vain CEOs, CFOs, and MBAs.

    My advice to the players is: Look around at the world. Don’t live in a bubble. Get cynical. And realize that world is better WITH the Minnesota Orchestra – for you and the rest of us – than without it.

    • Squirrel – take a look at what else mgmt has demanded – over 250 humiliating changes to working conditions. And folding to management would effectively destroy what is left of the MN Orchestra. There would be no “better world”.

      Just because “everyone else” is supposedly forced to take pay cuts and being victimized by the 1% doesn’t mean one shouldn’t fight it.

  8. R. James Tobin says:

    Here is how I see this now:

    1. Neither side is going to get total surrender from the other.
    2. To move on, both sides are going to have to give something.
    3. Both sides should agree in principle that the budget should come into balance over a period of years.
    4. Both sides should agree to bargain in good faith, with NLRB oversight.
    5. The lockout should end.
    6. The players should get cancellation of the new work rules in exchange for taking a pay cut of, say 10%.

    This should allow both sides to save face, which is essential.

    • Nice idea, but you assume the management is working “in good faith”? What I see is that they don’t care if the whole ship sinks. Anyway, the top guys have run other groups into the ground, and they just move on to another top Admin job in another organization…

    • James Brinton says:

      I would also suggest that the pain be shared, e.g.:

      7. Henson and the MOA administration should have their pay cut by the same percentage as the musicians. Ditto for the board, if any receive compensation.

      • Henson should lead from the front and once/if the orchestra play again work for an entire season for $1. Plus 10% of any NEW sponsorship he personally brings in. That’s an incentive plan.

        Meanwhile it seems to me that everyone, probably in sane moments, knows cuts have to be made. But they have to be made together and from an honest financial starting point. And that’s the problem. According to many reports Henson et al have presented fabulously rosy financial when it suited them, and correspndingly dreadful ones or other purposes. So I entirely sympathise with the players – what is the real scale of the challenge. You don’t need a mediator. You need a totally independent financial wizard with access to every last scrap of paper to define the line in the sand from which recovery/stability can begin.

    • If the budget were to be balanced over a period of years, do you have any suggestions as to:
      - where the shortfall comes from each year until that is achieved (given the current conditions, I can’t see many banks leaping to offer loans at sensible rates)
      - how to achieve that, if the fixed costs (musicians) remain high, other than guessing and hoping that ticket prices can be increased or donations will come flooding in more than before?
      - and once achieved, where the golden pot comes from to pay off the debt that has amounted because of the annual overspend?
      If these questions and similar can’t be answered, then the notion of “let’s settle this out over a few years” is merely a fingers-crossed hope that some magic will happen, and postponing the same crunch in a few years’ time when any funding really has run dry and there will be no orchestral jobs whatsoever as the organisation declares bankruptcy.

  9. I was going to lewt thjis go till I returned home from vacation. However, according to today’s NY Times, George Mitchell WILL be a mediator in this terrible situation. I suspect making peace betwen mgmt & union will make peace between Israelis & Palestinians like making peace between squabbling kindergarteners! There has to be good faith onBOTH sides & the more I read management is NOT working in good faith.

    • There is no good faith. A start might be this statement, to be released by Michael Henson (in my dreams):

      I confirm that I, Michael Henson, will work for one full twelve month period following resumption of concerts for $1, plus 10% of any new sponsorship I personally raise.
      IN ADDITION, what ever percentage pay reduction is accepted by the musicians will be applied equally across every single member of the administration. Further, any member of the administration currently earning more than an orchestra section principal will be required to accept a further 2% reduction.

      • Performing Artist52 says:

        I like that Peter! The short fall can start to be covered by Henson’s and the VP’s outrageous salaries. That would be showing GOOD FAITH indeed.

an ArtsJournal blog