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MN Orchestra re-opens negotiation talks, cancels concerts

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Minnesota Orchestra
The Minnesota Orchestra, in an undated file photo. the orchestra management today canceled all concerts through Feb. 10.
Photo by Greg Helgeson, courtesy Minnesota Orchestra

As the Minnesota Orchestra management today canceled all concerts through Feb. 10, it also attempted to jumpstart negotiations by offering two dates for talks with the musicians, without setting any preconditions.

The locked out musicians responded that management is trying to draw away attention from a letter signed by 14 state legislators questioning the orchestra's use of state funding.

The cancellations had been expected as management had to inform the Minneapolis Convention Center where the orchestra was due to play. However, coupling the announcement with the offer to negotiate was not. 

Until now, management has insisted on a counterproposal from the musicians before agreeing to further negotiating. The two parties have not met in months.

Orchestra President Michael Henson said it is time for one side to take initiative.

"It just felt that the most appropriate action that the board could take, and as a gesture of goodwill was to offer two dates for negotiations with the musicians without any preconditions," Henson said.

The dates offered are Saturday Jan. 5 and Wednesday Jan. 9.

Henson said management is also prepared to respond to the musicians' concerns about recent changes in the orchestra's mission statement. He said the statement will revert to its original form except for three changes to expand the orchestra's activities in the community.

Negotiator for the musicians, Tim Zavadil, said the cancellations are extremely disappointing.

"We find it interesting and peculiar that they willing to come back to the bargaining table only after an inquiry into some testimony has been initiated by the state legislature," Zavadil said.

Zavadil refers to a letter signed by 14 DFL legislators calling for management to explain how it has used state funding in recent months.

The letter raises concerns about how the orchestra asked for $14 million in state money for the renovation of orchestra Hall and the addition of a new lobby, and whether it has used the million dollars it received annually from Legacy Amendment funding to pay for the lock out.

Henson denies misleading lawmakers. In a response to the lawmakers today, he said the board has sequestered all Legacy funding to an account which will not be used for the duration of the lock out.

St. Paul DFL Rep. Alice Hausman, chair of the House Capital Improvement Committee, was one of the lawmakers who signed the letter. She supported giving the money for Orchestra Hall, but said it is important that musicians be treated fairly, as without them there would be no orchestra.

Hausman said she was pleased to hear about the sequestering of the Legacy funds.

"Having made that assurance, I personally would say, OK, I would take your word for it, you are going to put it in a separate account," Hausman said. "And in that case I would probably say no legislative hearing would probably be necessary."

However, Hausman said upcoming hearings on more Legacy funds for the orchestra will be problematic if the lock out continues.

"If the orchestra isn't playing, ensuring we can't send checks there, unless we have some sense that that is only going to be held for salaries for musicians," Hausman said.

As to the likelihood of the musicians to accept the offer to talk, Zavadil said they first have some questions about the willingness to end the lock out and whether the management's proposal to cut salaries by tens of thousands of dollars is indeed a final offer. Zavadil said musicians still want an independent analysis of the orchestra's finances. However, he also said they are eager to talk, and will be there if their questions are answered.