Minnesota Orchestra negotiations collapse -- again

Final concerts
Osmo Vanska conducts the Minnesota Orchestra in the first of his three final concerts on Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

The two sides in the ongoing Minnesota Orchestra dispute say yet another attempt at talks has collapsed.

A new attempt to overcome months of animosity between musicians and the orchestra's management by stepping away from the full negotiating committees didn't work.

Back-channel talks between two members of the management team and two musicians quickly collapsed after only two meetings.

The bottom line: there is a fundamental disagreement between management and musicians on how to go forward.

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Doug Kelley, a member of the management negotiating team for the Minnesota Orchestra, said his side floated the idea of a reconciliation taskforce of board members, management representatives and musicians to discuss a vision for the future of the organization. That didn't go over well.

Even in pairs, neither side was in the mood to surrender fundamental positions.

"Without getting too specific, we felt that we kept going back to talking points," said Tim Zavadil, one of the musicians' representatives. "And we weren't interested in talking points. We really want to have a conversation about what the vision is for the orchestra to determine how we move forward."

Osmo Vanska and  musicians
The Minnesota Orchestra gathers at Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 at Tedd Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota to play the first of three final concerts with Conductor Osmo Vanska, who resigned following a year-long lockout of the orchestra by management due to a labor dispute.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR

In many ways, the disagreement centers on opposing views of what short-term steps are necessary to ensure the long-term future of the orchestra.

Orchestra managers say they need to make substantial reductions in the cost of musicians' contract to make the orchestra viable now, so it can survive into the future. Musicians say that runs contrary to the orchestra's mission to be a world-class ensemble. They say lower wages will mean talented musicians will go elsewhere, and the orchestra will become a shadow of itself.

Doug Kelley sees something else behind the musicians' stance. He believes Minnesota is being used by the national union to draw a line.

"I think the reason that Minnesota is such a battleground," he said, "is because the International union has said they are really trying to change the business model in Minnesota and we can't let that happen."

Kelley said that is the basis behind "stonewalling" by the musicians.

Not so, said Zavadil. He said the musicians do have the support of the national union, "but at the end of the day we represent ourselves."

"And I think that Doug Kelley needs to realize that when the musicians vote 60 to nothing to turn down a contract proposal, that it really is us, speaking for ourselves."

Zavadil said the musicians remain firm in their demand for an end to the 13-month lockout imposed by management.

"That is a bullying tactic to remove the salary and health insurance of the families of the musicians to try to get the settlement that they want," he said.

But Kelley said he believes the demand to lift the lockout before negotiations can begin is a delaying tactic.

"We need to have the musicians sit down and remove preconditions and just talk with us about how to go forward," he said.

As they have for months, both sides say they are eager for a settlement, but they need the other side to move. Kelley said the musicians have refused to negotiate. Zavadil said management only wants to talk about a deal which reduces the budget by a number which it has set.

About the only thing they do agree about is the desire for Music Director Osmo Vanska to return. Vanska resigned six weeks ago as a result of the dispute.

Zavadil said Vanska raised the orchestra to world-class status, and the musicians want him back. He said management should too.

"We've seen the marketing reports," he said. "Osmo's concerts sell better than anyone else's. Osmo really is a draw."

Kelley agrees Vanska has been integral to the Orchestra's success. But he also wonders what would convince Vanska to return.

"We would love to have him around," Kelley said, "but I hope that he recognizes he has to be realistic in going forward."

Kelley said board members have already met with Vanska to discuss a return.

Meanwhile no other talks are scheduled between the two sides. The musicians will continue to perform their self-produced concerts: next week with former Minnesota Orchestra music director Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, and in December with former music director Eji Oue.