Contract negotiations continue at orchestras; final offer, counter-proposal

Minnesota Orchestra
The Minnesota Orchestra, in an undated file photo. On Tuesday, with just days left in the current contract, the Minnesota Orchestra management delivered what it called its final offer to musicians.
Photo by Greg Helgeson, courtesy Minnesota Orchestra

New developments appeared Tuesday in the contract battles at both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

In Minneapolis, with just days left in the current contract, Minnesota Orchestra management delivered what it called its final offer to musicians. The offer is unchanged from management's first contract proposal in that it still would cut the average annual pay of musicians from $135,000 to $89,000, but Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson says it also "clarifies" a number of work conditions and includes a reduction in the guaranteed number of musicians in the orchestra.

Henson said it has been almost six months since the initial proposal was delivered to musicians, who have yet to formally respond. Henson said this final offer is being made in preparation for the contract deadline at the weekend, but declined to say if these are first steps towards a lockout of the musicians.

"I think the reality is that this is speculation until we actually reach the first of October and we are waiting a response from the union and our musicians," Henson said.

Michael Henson
Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson says Tuesday's contract offer "clarifies" a number of work conditions and includes a reduction in the guaranteed number of musicians in the orchestra.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Orchestra

The cuts are necessary to create a more sustainable financial model for the future, Henson said. Musicians at the orchestras in Atlanta and Indianapolis are currently locked out by management as a result of their contract disputes.

A representative of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians said they are reviewing the proposal and have no comment.

Later Tuesday afternoon, musicians at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra released a counter-proposal in their contract negotiation. The new offer comes just days after management rejected an earlier proposal from the musicians because it did not cut costs by $1.5 million a year. That's the amount SPCO management says is necessary to cut for financial stability. The management also has suggested a 15 percent pay cut, and a reduction to the size of the orchestra.

Carole Mason Smith, who chairs the negotiating committee for the SPCO musicians, said today's counter-proposal is for a three-year contract that cuts musicians' salaries by a total of $700,000 over three years. She said it reaches the $1.5 million target using $3 million earmarked by management for a buyout of musicians over the age of 55. Mason Smith said this would maintain the SPCO's artistic quality by keeping experienced players in place.

Carole Mason Smith
Carole Mason Smith, who chairs the negotiating committee for the SPCO musicians, said today's counter-proposal is for a three-year contract that cuts musicians salaries by $700,000 a year.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

"We don't want to destroy the orchestra," she said. "We feel that strongly that we want the money that they have, they say they have, to buy people out, make people leave, make people go away," Mason Smith said. "We want them to use that money to preserve the quality of the orchestra."

She said the proposal would also give the SPCO management time to work on building the organization's endowment. Musicians are also asking for an increase to ticket prices and a reduction for surpluses they say are built into the management proposal.

A representative for management said the board is reviewing the document, and declined to comment. The SPCO contract runs out on Saturday. Further contract talks are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.