Since Day 1 the Minnesota Orchestra lockout has been taking a personal toll on musicians. Now, one year into the work stoppage, things are getting personal for the orchestra’s Board of Directors too.
Union musicians, members of the American Federation of Musicians Local 30-73, marked the one-year anniversary of the start of their work stoppage today, rallying outside Orchestra Hall downtown Minneapolis with patrons, community supporters and the president of their international union, who wasn’t shy about naming names.
In a fiery speech before a crowd of more than 200 people, AFM President Ray Hair called out 11 members of the board, and he identified most by their corporate employers, including Cargill, General Mills, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, United Health, 3M, Xcel Energy, Land o’ Lakes and the Star Tribune.
“Does that sound like a board that doesn’t have any money?” Hair asked. “Or does that sound like a bunch of bullies?
“I say no more groveling to these union-busters. These people and their companies are not worthy of our business.”
Musicians voted unanimously last weekend to reject the orchestra’s latest contract proposal, which would have slashed salaries by about 25 percent over three years.
Signing bonuses of $20,000 sweetened the offer, but musicians did not budge from their stance that significant compensation cuts will damage the orchestra’s long-term artistic viability, limiting its ability to attract qualified musicians – and prompting current musicians to seek jobs elsewhere.
Musicians have presented management with counteroffers, including some that would cut their pay by as much as 8 percent. The also say they are open to a “play-and-talk” arrangement that would allow concerts to resume while contract negotiations play out.
Still, management has shown little interest in compromise, Tony Ross, a cellist and member of the musicians’ bargaining team, told the crowd. Ross said he’s lost count of how many different offers the union has presented to management.
“They come back and make the same offer over and over again,” he said.
The lockout, of course, is a deliberate strategy to inflict economic hardship on workers in the hopes of exacting concessions at the bargaining table. The Board of Directors, Hair said, appears committed to the strategy, regardless of its effect on the orchestra’s reputation. Management announced yesterday it had backed out of concerts scheduled next month at Carnegie Hall, and today Osmo Vanska, the orchestra’s renowned conductor for the last 10 years, resigned.
“I call it economic terrorism by the rich big shots in this town,” Hair said. “It’s management without music, that’s what it is. And it’s coming from managers who wouldn’t know the difference between a banjo and a bass drum.”
The unanimous contract vote indicates musicians, too, remain resolved as ever, although many musicians with the orchestra a year ago have taken positions elsewhere. The musicians maintain a list of “ghosts lost to the lockout” on its website.
Still, they are forging ahead with plans to stage a series of concerts in various venues this fall, beginning with performances Friday and Saturday at Ted Mann Concert Hall. Emanuel Ax, a Grammy-winning pianist, will be featured in a program slated to include Stravinsky’s “Suite from The Firebird” – a piece, Ross noted, about “rising from the ashes.”
“We want to serve our community because it is the community that owns this orchestra, it is not the management,” Ross said. “So if we have to play every other hall but (Orchestra Hall), we will until we can get back where we belong.”