Minnesota Orchestra musicians, fans rally as lockout enters second month

Nils Halker, a longtime orchestra patron from St. Paul, joins the locked-out musicians’ rally in Peavey Plaza.

Musicians locked out of their jobs by the Minnesota Orchestra rallied with patrons, union leaders and other supporters in Peavey Plaza downtown Minneapolis today, as the lockout of 95 members of Twin Cities Musicians Union Local 30-73 entered its second month.

Although buoyed by strike benefits from their international union, the American Federation of Musicians, locked-out orchestra members have been without regular paychecks and health insurance for 31 days.

Many have accepted temporary, fill-in positions with orchestras around the country. Others are beginning to seek permanent work elsewhere, which is bad news for the orchestra’s fans and patrons, clarinetist Tim Zavadil said.

Attrition among orchestra members “is going to severely threaten the world-class status that the Minnesota Orchestra has been known for and what the state of Minnesota has supported for 110 years,” Zavadil said.

Orchestra ticketholders at the rally echoed those concerns. Nils Halker of St. Paul carried a homemade sign identifying himself as a “locked out patron” supporting the union musicians.

A longtime season ticket holder, Halker already has missed two concerts as a result of the lockout. He said he sides with the union in the dispute because he believes gutting musicians’ salaries would erode the artistic quality of a “cultural treasure.”

Bringing corporate tactics to Orchestra Hall?

The onus for preserving and protecting that treasure, Halker added, falls on the orchestra’s Board of Directors, which includes the powerful CEOs of corporations like U.S. Bank, Land o’ Lakes, Xcel Energy and others.

“They are not being good custodians,” Halker said of board members. “I believe it’s an irreplaceable treasure we are going to lose if this is not resolved in a good way.”

Some observers have questioned whether orchestra board members are bringing their corporate values – and hostilities toward unions – with them to Orchestra Hall. Halker pointed to the increased use of lockouts among employers – from the National Hockey League to American Crystal Sugar – looking to exact steep concessions from their workers.

“It seems to me to be a pattern,” he said. “The lockout has become a new management strategy, very widespread, because management feels they have a lot more leverage now than they have in the past.”

Holiday offerings in doubt

Orchestra management and its Board of Directors made the decision to lock out musicians Oct. 1 despite the union’s offer to continue negotiations while playing out the 2012-13 season – with a guarantee that musicians would not interrupt the concert schedule with a strike.

That offer was rejected, and concerts have been canceled through Nov. 25.

Management may decide next week to cancel more events, including popular holiday offerings.

That would deal a stinging blow to restaurants, parking ramps and other businesses around the Minneapolis Convention Center, which will house the orchestra during construction of a $52 million lobby at Orchestra Hall.

Tim Zavadil, a clarinetist and member of the union’s negotiating committee, talks to the media during the rally.

Zavadil called management’s decision to expand Orchestra Hall while demanding 30 to 50 percent pay cuts from musicians a “remarkable juxtaposition.”

Union members at the rally renewed their call for the orchestra to open its books to an “independent, third-party financial analysis” of whether the pay cuts are really necessary – a request the orchestra repeatedly has denied.

“We don’t know what they’re afraid of, why they won’t agree to this,” Zavadil said. Pointing out that the orchestra is demanding the average musician sacrifice $60,000 in concessions, Zavazil added: “I’ve never invested $60,000 anywhere before, but were I going to … I would need the most complete and verified financial information I could possibly find.”

If the orchestra moves forward with canceling holiday concerts, Zavadil said, the union has plans in the works to give concerts to fans and supporters at alternative venues, like musicians’ homes. Muusicians were encouraged by the turnout – more than 2,100 people – at a sold-out concert staged by the union Oct. 18.

Halker was in the second row for that show. It was his only opportunity to hear the orchestra since the last season ended and, he hopes, not his last.

“It was spectacular,” he said. “It was emotional, it was powerful, it was thrilling – and sad at the same time.”

Click here for more information on the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, and what supporters can do to help.

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