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Minnesota: more pain, no gain

Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra today voted down an offer to return to work on an 18 percent salary cut, softened by a $20,000 signing-on bonus. Under the deal, avaerage wages would have dropped from $136,000 a year to $104,500.

The offer marked a softening of the company’s hardline position, but there is no good faith left between the sides after a yearlong lockout of the musicians and it now seems inevitable that, with no prospect of renewed music making in sight, the music director Osmo Vanska will carry through his threat to quit.

Like many of the best musicians, who have migrated to other orchestras, he sees no future for music in Minnesota.

musicians for minn

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  1. R. James Tobin says:

    Probably they should have accepted the offer. Once back at work they would have been in a position to bargain for a raise at the end of the (not-specified) contract. The signing bonus would have helped. Right now they have in effect taken a 100% cut, right? And, except for the blow of lowered expectations– $104,500 is not exactly a poor salary. I realize that the work rules issue was not mentioned, though. Anyway the union needs to make a counter-offer.

    • With all due respect, that is a practical response, but maybe not realistic. Once the players agree to a reduction in salary, plus the other changes, it seems they will lose status in terms of other comparable orchestras. It may be the MOA intent to return the MO from international to regional status, and that is not acceptable to them. It is, like it or not, from the players’ end, a bait-and-switch.

      • What do you mean “…it seems they will lose status…”? If they are the same musicians, there won’t be a change in the music. Unless they plan on not working as hard because of the pay cut.

        • Clearly you have not been paying attention. The orchestra now has 20+ vacancies (an orchestra of Minnesota’s caliber has 2 or 3 per season). Accepting this contract will make it almost impossible to fill even half of these vacancies, and the regressive pay structure will only give incentive for current members to leave. This will be a mere shell of the great orchestra it used to be, and will likely never regain its status. But then again, that has been management’s plan all along.

        • A. Penner says, “it seems they will lose status…? ”

          The current MO salary is comparative with the top tier of US orchestras who have earned international recognition. The orchestra model many of these players signed onto was that of a destination orchestra of international renown. MOA seems to have a different vision for the MO — to return it to the status of a good regional orchestra, and lower the salaries to be consistent with that level of status.

          Previous conductor SNM said in the 80′s the MO was a good place for players ‘on their way up or on their way down’. The MO was not a destination orchestra at that time. Ironically, a handful of players still with the MO were there during his tenure.

  2. Robert Levine says:

    I’m sure there have been many counterproposals made in the mediation process. Remember, this management proposal was made – quite improperly, in my view – outside of the mediation process which management agreed to. Think about why they might have done that.

    The idea that they might be able to bargain for a better contract in the future if they accept this offer is a fantasy. If the best they can do after being out of work for a year is a big cut, what leverage would they have in future negotiations?

  3. Being locked out is not the same as a 100% pay cut. Agreeing to an 18% salary cut is tantamount to agreeing that their work is only worth that lowered amount–which puts them in a position of NOT being able to bargain for a raise at the end of the not-specified contract.

    It seems that more and more of the musicians are able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that their work is worth far more, as they are being offered positions with other orchestras that do indeed pay more.

  4. Daniel Farber says:

    As we all know, management is awful, but in refusing the deal offered, on what principle I cannot imagine at this point, the musicians wind up losing Vanska, one of the great conductors of the world. Management “succeeds” in lowering “labor” to its level. This impasse could have been solved only by someone with Lyndon Johnson’s political acumen.

  5. When musicians’ rep says in Star Tribune that the situation is “fluid,” it means they’re going to try to get a little better deal but are close and will settle soon. No guarantees, but my money is on a settlement within 24-48 hours.

  6. I think it’s also the matter that the offer was made very publicly, and not through the management-hired mediator, George Mitchell. So just on principle. I believe the musicians did make a counteroffer not long ago, which proposed modest pay increases. Only because we’ve had a year of “we need MAJOR pay cuts” does it now seem outlandish that asking for a modest increase (to keep up with the cost of living) is seen as unreasonable. And remember, $104k is an average salary, meaning many would earn less. I don’t think many of us (certainly not me) would respond well to a proposal to have our salary cut by 30%.

    • Both the musicians and the mediator agreed to an offer which would have caused the musicians a lot of pain. Mgmt refused and then went around their backs to “go public”, especially in their favorite “newspaper” the StarTribune. They thought they would win the PR offensive. Didn’t happen.

  7. paulhmuller says:

    At the end of the day it wasn’t the playing of the musicians that caused the failure in Minnesota – it was lack of vision and leadership by the board who failed in their primary duty to secure the needed funding. All American management knows how to do these days is cheapen a brand and then cut labor costs. The board is probably toasting their ‘success’.

    • So the $20.6 million+ deficit, the declining patronage, and the reduction in public funding didn’t have anything to do with this “failure” you speak of? Or is that info just assumed?
      Let’s just say that was assumed.

      • These are administrative failures, not artistic ones. Balancing the budget on the back of the musicians cheapens the brand and is an easy way to shift the responsibility from where it belongs.

        • If management was guilty of anything over the last 10 years it would be of counting on the sustained interest of the public as a viable means of generating income.
          Even at this current height of exposure for the musicians, their upcoming concert has barely generated 80% of the seats sold. While that’s nothing to scoff at, it becomes questionable when we consider the venue is the Ted Mann Concert Hall at the U of M; an auditorium that only seats just over 1,100.
          Decorate it as you like, but the real ‘failure’ of this orchestra (as a whole) was about public interest.

          • Ticket sales have *never* been where the real money is. I thought that was pretty common knowledge.

      • What is this $20.6 million figure you reference? And the deficit is a moving target and only an estimate – mgmt refuses to be transparent with the finances. They also managed to spend $13.7 million during a year in which no musicians were paid. The public funding was reduced b/c the purposes of the funding/grants were not achieved – for instance, education programs. It’s a definite management fail – their fundraising and marketing efforts are nil at best and they have managed to alienate all donor bases except the one marked “super rich who agree with us”.

  8. I tend to agree with R.James.

    This offer isn’t good, but better than the previous ones. At least, there is a hope for the future.
    It’s better to play than not!

  9. It would have been an easier sell if the pay scale had been reversed. In other words, in the first year take the biggest pay cut, then move towards regaining the loss over the life of the contract. The way this one was structured the musicians would find themselves bargaining from the position of $104,000 next time around. This was no accidental decision by mgmt…

    • Back-loaded contracts are common in professional sports, at least in the US. A team will sign a player to a lucrative five-year deal, then at three years it’s back to the bargaining table to “restructure” the contract. Usually doesn’t work in the player’s favor.

      I wouldn’t see this working in the musicians’ favor, either.

    • @David
      I thought about that to. But I think the reason why management didn’t go that route was because they were trying to appeal to what the musicians sought-after the most: the money — as they’ve so blatantly displayed throughout this ordeal.

  10. Wing-chi Chan says:

    Would it be an equal rate of cut to the managerial staff, especially its executive director who has initiated the whole storm?

    • R. James Tobin says:

      Management should of course take a pay cut also. But so much of this discussion focuses on the ideal instead of the reality of not working, not being paid, and an unreasonable board.

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