September 8, 2012 at 5:22 PMThe Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s musicians’ contracts both expire at the end of September, and a lot of things have been happening lately in the discussions. My blog entry chronicling the goings-on this past week is 7000+ words, so if you haven’t been keeping up, here’s a Reader’s Digest version. If you want more perspectives, more links, more questions, and more subtlety, I invite you to visit my orchestra negotiation Tumblr, which I’ve been updating at least once a day this last week. (Keep in mind the Tumblr features some adult language and unhealthy levels of sarcasm. So if that’s not your thing, stay away.)
Here’s a brief overview of where we’re at as of this weekend, at least from my perspective as a patron…
The opening shot was fired on 25 August when assistant principal violist Evelina Chao wrote an editorial in the St. Paul Pioneer Press titled “Fearing for ‘our orchestra as we know it.’” That editorial claimed that management’s proposals would reduce musicians’ wages by 57% and 67%. On 28 August, the musicians of the SPCO released a PDF summary of the negotiations so far, and on 1 September they released a collection of charts discussing numbers. On 31 August, SPCO Interim CEO Dobson West spoke to MinnPost, saying, “We have never proposed and wouldn’t propose salary cuts in the 57 to 67 percent range. That magnitude is way beyond anything we have proposed”…therefore making it clear that at least one side is lying, or at best, being disingenuous. West did not release any numbers to MinnPost. In retrospect, it seems likely that that he was waiting for The Day of the Dump, when managements at both the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO released dozens and dozens of pages of documents, leading me to muse aloud if managements are coordinating in some capacity. The SPCO management made the information public in a link in an email to patrons: http://updates.thespco.org/. The papers released there are very dense and haven’t been fully analyzed yet, but you’re welcome to take a stab at them yourself. After widespread protest from the musicians and the public, SPCO management offered a new contract that they say includes a 15% cut and a reduction in the size of the ensemble, among other things. Musicians are still reviewing the document, but judging by their response on Facebook, they’re not terribly impressed. Yesterday we also had the terribly sad news that principal clarinetist Timothy Paradise, who has been with the orchestra since 1977, is resigning…presumably because of the turmoil. Unfortunately, I’d steel yourself for many more resignations in the weeks to come.
In late August the orchestra’s blog Inside the Classics was “temporarily” shut down; its authors were not given much, if any, warning. On 30 and 31 August the Minnesota Orchestra musicians continued their meetings with management. But we heard nothing out of Minneapolis until 5 September, when a big shiny pro-management website was launched on the Minnesota Orchestra’s website. That pro-management website actually included the contract currently under negotiation, much to the musicians’ annoyance. Things took a turn for the Twilight Zone the next day when musicians dropped the bombshell that they hadn’t been told that management was going public with the contract, and that the terms management had released weren’t necessarily what they were talking about in private. Journalists’ heads then exploded. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that management’s proposals included dropping the musicians’ average base salary from $109,000 to $78,000. I pointed out that despite the headlines, the big story here is not necessarily the salary, but rather the proposed changes in working conditions, which, among many many many other things, include a reduction in fully paid medical leave from 26 weeks a year to 13; after that, musicians’ pay would be halved. The musicians fired back yesterday with a request for an independent audit of the orchestra’s endowment, saying they’re hearing different numbers from different people. Management claims they’ve done this already, implying the musicians’ request is a PR/stalling tactic.
In short, it’s been a week full of ugly, ugly acrimony: a tennis match of spin and sadness. And it will probably only get worse from here. I’m guessing that come October, neither the SPCO nor Minnesota Orchestra are going to be playing. Are we looking at two Detroit-style meltdowns in the same metro area at the same time? I don’t really want to think about that question, much less answer it.
In any case, as I said on my blog, “I don’t even drink and I want to get drunk. Badly.”
If you’re a praying person, some prayers wouldn’t go amiss here. Otherwise, send us all your positive thoughts. We need them.
More updates next weekend. If you want more in the interim, like I said, follow my Tumblr.
I hope things work out for the orchestras in the Minneapolis-St Paul area, but at least you're doing your part.
Besides, I didn't say there would be a Detroit-style meltdown. I said I don't want to think about the possibility. There's a big difference there. Right now we honestly don't know what's hyperbole and what's reality. Things could very well resolve peaceably. But on the other hand things could end very badly.
That being said, I'd be delighted if you were right!
Unfortunately, the management is faced with the difficult task of ensuring a long-term future for the orchestra against funds which are not commensurate with the negotiated terms of their previous contracts. That's not a good position for any employer to be in. But, times change. A LOT of people in working class America have taken huge pay-cuts in order to keep their jobs during a tough economy. I hope, for the sake of the MO, the two sides will be able to come to an agreement which serves both groups and allows the musicians to continue doing what they love with an eye towards better times and fatter pay-checks in the future. :-)
""Unfortunately, the management is faced with the difficult task of ensuring a long-term future for the orchestra against funds which are not commensurate with the negotiated terms of their previous contracts."
Agreed. Management does not have an easy job, at all. That being said, they would have much more of my sympathy if A) they were willing to acknowledge the costs of sustaining a competitively world-class orchestra (right now they are intent on not just sustaining artistry, but "heightening" it, which, given current proposals concerning both pay and working conditions, is almost certainly not a realistic goal), and B) they treated their musicians with more respect, especially in the press. There has been very little respect lately. Respect and love for your community's best musicians doesn't have to cost a cent, even if in the end you have to offer major pay cuts.
That being said, I'd like to see the musicians be nicer toward management in public. I haven't always been particularly impressed with their or the SPCO's comportment on their blogs and Facebook pages. Like you said, it's a very emotional issue.
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