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Orchestra labor dispute is over; musicians back to work Feb. 1

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Minnesota Orchestra
Doug Kelley, vice chair of the negotiating committee and board member, announces an agreement with the orchestra musicians that will end the lockout Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. He said it will be an emotional experience for everyone when the musicians play their first concert in the new building.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

After 15 months of bitter argument, the Minnesota Orchestra lockout is over. Musicians and management reached an agreement which will have the players return to work in two weeks, with a first concert to follow shortly after. 

Although the contract is settled, there are many other issues which are not, including whether conductor Osmo Vanska  will return.

The musicians' vote ends the nation's longest-running contract dispute for a concert orchestra. Both sides say they're pleased with the agreement.

PREVIOUSLY:
• Other orchestras see bright future despite Minn. lockout
• Lawmakers call for resignation of Minnesota Orchestral Association leaders
• Standing ovation, tears for Vanska's farewell concert
• Orchestra lovers left wondering about the future after Vanska quits
• Without Vanska, some say orchestra could lose its way
• Photos: A new Orchestra Hall is ready -- and waiting

Musicians will return to work on Feb. 1. Under the terms of a three-year contract, they will have to take a 15 percent pay cut in the first year, but they will receive raises in the second and third years, resulting in a total pay cut of 10 percent over the term of the contract.

However, they will also be paying increased health care expenses that orchestra mangers said will make the musicians' total concession about 15 percent.

"Keeping our salaries in the top ten was a critical issue for us, as it allows us to attract and retain the finest musicians in the country, and continue building the tradition of excellence that has been cultivated by the community over the past 110 years," cellist and musician negotiator Marcia Peck said.

Although a number of musician positions will remain vacant, the agreement adds seven members over three years, which will increase the size of the orchestra from 77 to 84 musicians.

The musicians also won concessions from management on work rules and greater input into the running of the orchestra that will involve quarterly meetings on artistic output. They received a guarantee of 20 weeks of classical concerts, which will help allay musician concerns that the orchestra was moving too much toward popular music.

Details on concerts will be announced soon.

"Our plan is to resume concerts as soon as possible, with 'homecoming' programs in early February and then the launch of our 2014 subscription season," Minnesota Orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson said.  "We are happy to begin a new chapter by welcoming our audiences and the greater community to Orchestra Hall and the musicians back to this stage."

Management locked out the musicians in October 2012 after the musicians rejected a contract proposal calling for 35 percent salary cuts and a myriad of changes in work rules.

The orchestra reported a $6 million shortfall in 2012. Its management has insisted that cutting salaries is essential to putting the institution on a sound financial footing.

Doug Kelley, vice chairman of negotiations committee of the board of directors, said the contract signed today was true compromise. 

"Nobody got everything they wanted in this," Kelley said. "The musicians told us it was extremely important for them to stay in the top ten orchestras in the country, and this contract allows them to do that. From the board of directors' perspective, it was extremely important for us that we get some savings from this contract."

Minnesota Orchestra
Minnesota Orchestra musicians, left to right, Kevin Watkins, Doug Wright, Tim Zavadil, Marcia Peck and Anthony Ross announce that the musicians approved a new contract with management that ends the lockout Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 at the Hilton in downtown Minneapolis.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

Negotiations seemed to grind to a halt in recent months. Orchestra managers argued that cuts to musicians' salaries and benefits were needed so the orchestra would remain viable into the future.

Musicians said that lower wages would undermine the orchestra's position as a world-class institution. They also claimed that management was putting money before artistic excellence.

"You don't lock out people from their jobs for this long without there at least being some lingering feeling," musicians spokesperson Blois Olson said following the announcement.  "The key point is that people came back together. The real test will be in the future weeks and months as the audience returns."

Kelley said management is ready to rebuild the orchestra, and plans to work closely with musicians to move past the long labor dispute. 

"I know that there's a little scar tissue here, but I hope that they'll come in and recognize that we all have to work together," Kelley said. 

The stalemate led Music Director Osmo Vanska to resign on Oct. 1 after having to cancel two Minnesota Orchestra concerts at Carnegie Hall because the musicians had not rehearsed regularly enough to ensure the quality demanded of such an occasion.

Under Vanska's leadership, the orchestra received two Grammy nominations, toured nationally and internationally, and made two high-profile appearances at Carnegie Hall and the Proms in London.

Clarinetist and musician negotiator Tim Zavadil said it's uncertain whether Vanska will return. 

"As we said then, on Oct. 1, it was devastating," Zavadil said. "We continue to believe that it will only make us stronger if Osmo returns."

The extended lockout led to a drop in public confidence in the orchestra, even as it continued to collect donations.

In December, a group of 10 state legislators called for the resignation of orchestra president Henson and two members of the orchestra's board of directors on the grounds that they have poorly led the orchestra. Save Our Symphony Minnesota, a group working to end the contract dispute, recently called on the City of Minneapolis to assume control of Orchestra Hall -- and the Orchestra's multi-million dollar endowment.

Now that the labor dispute is over, Save Our Symphony Minnesota Vice Chair Jon Eisenberg said he's pleased with the agreement. But Eisenberg said he hopes new leadership on the board will involve the broader community in more decisions about the orchestra.

"We're looking forward to working on how those other stakeholders can have seats at the table, and having discussions about the future of the orchestra and making sure something like this never happens again," Eisenberg said. 

The locked out Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have performed a series of outside concerts to promote their cause. They announced a 10-concert spring season, but said coming to a deal with management was their priority.