MN Orchestra opens up about contract negotiations

Here at MPR our coverage of both the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra‘s contract negotiations has been ramping up over the past several weeks. While both the musicians and the administration of the SPCO have been relatively transparent and forthcoming, the Minnesota Orchestra has been quite the opposite.

Until now.

The orchestra has launched a web page on its site with links to the 2012 contract proposal, the orchestra’s most recent annual report, and supplemental information on the negotiations, the endowment and other financial challenges.

For journalists this is great news – it means we have access to a wealth of information that will help us to better analyze the situation, and tell you the complete story.

Check back in the coming days as we dig in to the details to sift out the most important facts, and talk to the Minnesota Orchestra musicians to hear their side of the story.

In the meantime, here’s the Minnesota Orchestra’s opening statement from the site:

Minnesotans have always recognized music as essential to the life of a vibrant community. Our state was not yet 50 years old when its residents founded an orchestra in 1903. Built by our generous philanthropic community, the Minnesota Orchestra bloomed, bringing great music to life. We are proud that this institution has introduced millions of young people to classical music, commissioned new works, traveled the state, and shared music locally and across the globe.

Thousands of people contribute to the Minnesota Orchestra’s success: in addition to musicians and soloists, there are Board members and community donors, artistic and administrative leaders, staff, volunteers, and our audiences–the reason our organization exists. We all have a part to play!

Today, our Minnesota Orchestra is facing significant financial challenges. Like many others in the recession, we need to substantially cut costs. We also need to increase our work rule flexibility to help us better meet the needs of today’s concertgoers. As the Orchestra’s board and musicians engage in contract negotiations, we have a responsibility to create a better future–to ensure that this institution will be artistically vibrant and financially healthy for decades to come.

Why are these negotiations important?

The Minnesota Orchestra and its musicians are engaged in contract negotiations at a critical moment in our organization’s history. Like many of the country’s symphony orchestras, we have financial challenges that have never been greater, and our musician expenses have never been higher. The Orchestra has managed a five-year contract with its musicians that included a pay increase of 19.2 percent to base salary, just as the organization’s revenues were being hit hard by the economy. The organization has been doing everything it can to resolve its financial challenges, from engaging in a $110 million fundraising campaign, to cutting budgets, to launching new marketing and programming initiatives, and renovating Orchestra Hall to make it more inviting to audiences of all ages.

Musicians account for 48 percent of the Orchestra’s total costs. (For background: nearly 80% of our total costs support concert-related expenses, and we have now enacted significant cost reductions in all other areas of our business except the musicians’ contract.) Their average annual salary is $135,000, plus $35,000 worth of benefits, including a defined benefit pension plan and a comprehensive medical plan. They receive a minimum of 10 weeks paid vacation and up to 26 weeks of paid sick leave each year. Our musicians must play their part in the organization’s financial recovery.

What do you think of these contract negotiations? Do the Minnesota Orchestra musicians need to “play their part” by taking pay cuts? Or does the orchestra need to do a better job of finding funding for its work?