Union musicians locked out on both sides of the Mississippi River

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians at Ordway Center.

Union musicians in Minneapolis and St. Paul have been locked out of their jobs by the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO), leaving a deafening void in the Twin Cities cultural scene.

SPCO musicians, who had been working under a “talk-and-play” agreement after their contract expired in September, were locked out Oct. 21, when orchestra President and Chair Dobson West posted a statement that concerts had been canceled through Nov. 4.

The musicians, members of Twin Cities Musicians Union Local 30-73, are encouraging fans and supporters to contact SPCO management with an appeal to reconsider a counterproposal the union offered during contract talks Sept. 25. Go to musiciansspco.org to take action.

Rejected by management a day later, the counterproposal offered to cut musicians’ salaries by 10.5 percent across the board over the next two years and by 4 percent in the third year – in exchange for shared sacrifice from SPCO management. According to the union, it would save the SPCO more than $700,000 over the course of the three-year pact.

SPCO management has said it is seeking $1.5 million in cost savings from the musicians’ contract – a figure musicians say is impossible to reach without compromising the SPCO’s artistic quality.

“It is disheartening that management isn’t interested in preserving this historic ensemble,” said Carole Smith, a bassoonist and chair of the union’s Negotiations Committee. “We need the public now more than ever to contact management and ask them to reconsider.”

The counterproposal includes other concessions designed to help the SPCO raise revenue, including free musician performances eight times each year and performances at small gatherings of SPCO donors. Musicians say the SPCO has the money in hand to maintain operations without drastic cuts. The union’s counterproposal, Smith said, would provide management with the savings it needs in the short run in order “to finally put together an effective endowment drive.”

MN Orchestra lockout drags on

In 2010, The New Yorker magazine critic Alex Ross lauded the Minnesota Orchestra as “the greatest orchestra in the world.” The orchestra, founded 110 years ago as the Minneapolis Symphony, tours nationally and internationally, and issues critically-acclaimed symphonic recordings.

The management of the orchestra, however, locked out its 95 musicians Oct. 1, when they failed to ratify a proposed contract. The proposal included pay cuts of 30-50 percent in musicians’ salaries. The proposed contract also included more than 250 changes to the musicians’ current agreement, gutting 40 years of worker protections gained through collective bargaining.

The musicians, also members of the Twin Cities Musicians Union Local 30-73, were ready to continue working and performing while contract issues were resolved. But orchestra management – the Minnesota Orchestral Association – cancelled the entire fall season.

Although the lock-out meant the cancellation of the fall season’s opening night, scheduled for Oct. 18, the musicians were determined to play. Independent of management, they promoted and staged their own sold-out concert the same night with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting.

“From the beginning,”orchestra member Wendy Williams said, “our perception has been a refusal to bargain in good faith by the other side.”

She noted that management recently adopted a new business model and  changed the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s mission statement – even dropping presenting a “symphony orchestra” from the stated mission.

More information is at MinnesotaOrchestraMusicians.org.

Minneapolis Labor Review Editor Steve Share contributed reporting.

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