As deadlines near, developments in contract struggles at MnOrch and SPCO

There were developments in the contract battles at both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Tuesday.

In Minneapolis, with just days left in the current musicians contract, Minnesota Orchestra management delivered what it called its final offer to musicians.

It is unchanged from managements first contract proposal in that it would cut the average annual pay of musicians from $135,000 to $89,000, but Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson says it “clarifies” a number of work conditions, and includes a reduction in the guaranteed number of musicians in the Orchestra .

Henson says it’s been almost six months since the initial proposal was delivered to musicians and they have not yet delivered a formal response. He says this final offer is being made in preparation for the contract deadline at the weekend, but declined to say whether these are first steps towards a musicians lockout.

“I think the reality is that is speculation until we actually reach the first of October and we are waiting a response from the union and our musicians,” he said.

Henson says the cuts are necessary to create a more sustainable financial model for the future. Musicians at the orchestras in Atlanta and Indianapolis are both currently locked out by management as a result of their contract disputes.

A representative of the musicians said they are reviewing the proposal and have no comment.

Later in the afternoon musicians at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra released a new counter-proposal in their contract negotiations. The offer comes just days after management rejected an earlier musicians proposal because it didn’t cut costs by $1.5 million dollars a year. Management says that’s the figure it needs for financial stability, and has suggested a 15 percent pay cut, and a reduction of the size of the orchestra.

Musicians negotiating committee chair Carole Mason Smith says the proposal offers total salary reductions of 700-thousand dollars over three yearsthe proposal offers total salary reductions of 700-thousand dollars over three years. It then reaches the $1.5 million target using $3-million earmarked by management for a buy-out of musicians over the age of 55. Mason Smith says this would maintain the SPCO’s artistic quality by keeping experienced players in place.

“We don’t want to destroy the orchestra,” she said. “We feel that strongly that we want the money that they have, they say they have, to buy people out, make people leave, make people go away, we want them to use that money to preserve the quality of the orchestra.”

She says the proposal would also give the SPCO management time to work on building the organizations endowment. Musicians are also asking for an increase in ticket prices, and a reduction for surpluses they say are built into the management proposal.

A representative of management said the board is reviewing the document, and declined to comment for the moment. The SPCO contract runs out on Saturday September 30th, and further contract talks are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.