Long-awaited contract talks between the two sides in the Minnesota Orchestra labor dispute finally began Monday — and then almost immediately collapsed.
Management said musicians' contract proposals don't solve the organization's financial problems. Then, orchestra management withdrew from two coveted Carnegie Hall shows scheduled for November. The move could lead to the resignation of conductor Osmo Vanska.
Will he or won't he? That's the question on the lips of many Minnesota Orchestra fans who wonder whether Vanska will follow through on his threat and resign if management were to withdraw from the prestigious New York City performances.
At a press conference immediately after the cancellation, musicians representative Blois Olson denounced the orchestra management's move.
"They have chosen to drive the car that is the Minnesota Orchestra over the cliff," he said.
Management has been complaining for well over a year that musicians have offered no substantive contract proposals, but Olson said on Monday that musicians had offered not one, but two. The first was a one-year deal to end the lockout and have musicians play while negotiating a longer-term contract. The second offer was a three-year deal that musicians say would return their costs to 2007 levels. Musicians' salaries have increased 19 percent since 2007, but the players said their proposal wouldn't mean 19 percent pay cuts. Since 2007, many highly paid musicians have left and the proposal would spread the cost of the contract over a smaller number of players.
Olson said the players are upset that management did not offer a counterproposal to their offers.
"In other words, at the 11th hour-and-a-half, they have refused to negotiate," he said
However, management said it was the musicians who were not negotiating. In a statement, Board Chair Jon Campbell described the musicians' offers as a less than good faith effort. And Orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson was only a little less blunt.
"The musicians, for the first time today, after 17 months of negotiations, put in their first proposal. And in fact they put in two proposals today, both of which were unfortunately wholly inadequate," Henson said, adding that the offers came nowhere close to saving the amount of money the organization needs to overcome its $6 million deficit. He said the musicians' three-year offer would cut salaries by only 4.7 percent, while the board's most recent offer cut salaries by almost 18 percent — and still left an annual deficit of more than $1 million.
"If the musicians return with a proposal that acknowledges the substantial financial challenges that we face, we will of course be happy to negotiate," Henson said.
Canceling the Carnegie concerts was a hard decision for the orchestra, but Carnegie needed to know if the events were going to go ahead or not. When asked about the possibility of Osmo Vanska leaving in the face of the cancelations, Henson said he wants him to stay.
"What Osmo does is his decision," he said. "We very much hope that he continues to honor his contract through to the end of September 2015."
The musicians also are worried Vanska will leave. Negotiating Committee chair Tim Zavadil said the orchestra has flourished under Vanska's leadership.
"We do not want that to end at all," he said. "And we will do what we can to make sure that it continues."
The musicians are mounting their own independent fall season, and say they will investigate the possibility of taking Vanska to Carnegie to stage their own concerts.
Vanska made no statement immediately after the cancellation. An orchestra representative said the earliest she expected any public statement from the conductor would be later today.