Settlement long overdue in orchestra dispute

ECM Editorial Board

It’s time to settle the contract dispute involving the Minnesota Orchestra Association board of directors and its professional musicians. This gridlock has gone on for more than a year and there’s no end in sight.

Thousands of classical music lovers from all over the region will not hear the holiday performances of this world-renowned symphony orchestra. Instead, many will be playing an all-Tchaikovsky program Dec. 14 and 15 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Meanwhile, the volunteer orchestra board of directors and the musicians union are at odds, and they say for good reasons.

The board, fearing operating costs are eroding the $120 million endowment it controls, has developed a business plan to preserve the orchestra. Only 5 percent a year can be drawn from a second endowment controlled by the Dayton family.

A spokesperson for the board said if the salary schedule from the contract that ended in 2012 were continued the endowment would spiral to zero dollars in five years.

The board has asked its musicians to take a cut in pay from an average annual salary of $135,000 plus benefits to a minimum base of $104,500 plus benefits of $30,000 and 10 weeks of vacation. That’s a salary cut of $30,500 or 22.6 percent.

The orchestra board also had a one-time signing bonus in its latest offer, which was rejected.

The musicians offered to take a 6.7 percent cut the first year, but would maintain their old salary of $135,000 each of the next two years of the three-year contract. They also are countering to take a cut of 4.7 percent over three years and reverting to the average annual salary of $135,000 after three years.

Musicians are unwilling to accept a 22 percent cut, citing that the orchestra board does not have a long-term positive vision for the orchestra. They say they’ve made 10 proposals. A base salary of $84,916 is less than what half of the top orchestras earn, the musicians say. The latest offer has no protection if members are forced to play in other orchestras, are subject to unacceptable job description changes and take a 25 percent cut in substitute pay.

Until the powerful political and business leaders and the Legislature become involved in the negotiations, and until music lovers become aroused like sports stadium backers, Orchestra Hall will stay dark.

The recent strike by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and its board of directors was settled when St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman brought both sides together. The famous chamber orchestra paid the price with an 18.6 percent pay cut and a reduction of six members from 34.

Former Gov. Arne Carlson suggests the Legislature provide more funds, just as it voted $450 million for a new Vikings stadium. Contrast this to the $14 million in state bonding money for the remodeled Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis and the $1 million a year in state funding.

Since there is precedent for financially supporting the orchestra, this seems a logical pathway to providing a state orchestra with the funding it needs.

Comparing the money the state gives professional sports teams to what it gives two renowned orchestras in Minneapolis and St. Paul shows the imbalance.

Politicians, however, are not hounded by classical music lovers as they are by professional sports fans. That can make all the difference. Where’s the rally?

 

This editorial is a product of the ECM
Editorial Board. The Caledonia Argus is a part of ECM Publishers Inc.

 

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