SPCO negotiations show signs of progress

There are indications that contract negotiations are moving ahead between the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra management and musicians. This afternoon SPCO President Dobson West sent out a letter to constituents with a detailed update.

MPR’s Euan Kerr is calling out for interviews right now with both management and the musicians; in the meantime, here’s West’s letter.

Dear Members of the SPCO Family,

I am writing to update you on the status of the negotiations with the Musicians. As you know, on Thursday January 17th the Musicians terminated the off-the-record discussions and we canceled concerts through March 23rd.

Shortly after that announcement, we formally submitted to the Musician Negotiating Committee a new on-the-record offer that contained significant concessions intended to address what we understand to be the Musicians’ major concerns. Those concessions include the following:

No current Musician will lose his/her job via position elimination.

The Musicians have expressed their concern that a reduction in the size of the orchestra could lead to current Musicians losing their jobs. After carefully studying the list of positions eligible for the Special Retirement Package, we determined that if five Musicians retire from a specific list of non-principal positions, the Society will be left with an artistically viable instrumentation for the Orchestra and we will not need to eliminate the job of any current Musician.

We have also proposed that there will not be less than 27 positions in the Orchestra and that the Society will consult with the Artistic Vision Committee (AVC) and at least one Artistic Partner in determining the size and instrumentation of the Orchestra.

Salaries will increase during the contract.

The Musicians have expressed their concern that salaries do not increase during the life of the contract. Our previous offer provided for a minimum guaranteed annual salary of $50,000 for all Musicians with minimum guaranteed annual overscale for all current Musicians of $12,500 per year, resulting in a flat minimum guaranteed compensation of $62,500 for all current Musicians for the life of the contract. In addition, all Musicians will have the right to negotiate for additional compensation in their individual contracts.

Our revised offer provides for the base annual compensation of $50,000 to increase to $51,000 in FY15 and $52,000 in FY16. When combined with guaranteed overscale, current Musicians would receive a guaranteed minimum of $62,500 in FY14, $63,500 in FY15 and $64,500 in FY16 (plus any individually negotiated overscale).

In addition, our revised offer provides for a $10,000 one-time bonus to be paid to each current Musician upon execution and ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement.

Insurance benefits will be guaranteed.

The Musicians have expressed their concern that insurance benefits could be canceled or dramatically changed at any time. While this was never our intent, in our revised offer we have proposed that insurance levels not change during the term of the collective bargaining agreement except in the same way it can change today or due to health care reform, in which cases any changes would be made in consultation with the Orchestra Committee.

Musicians will continue to have the artistic input they have today.

While the Musicians continue to claim that our proposals take away their artistic control, this is simply not true. Our proposal does not contain any substantial changes in the audition process, the tenure process, the artistic review process, the Artistic Vision Committee or the Artistic Personnel Committee.

It is possible that this claim was made in response to our proposal to change the size and instrumentation of the Orchestra. We believe we have addressed this concern as indicated above: by proposing a path forward in which no Musician is terminated through position elimination and by proposing that decisions about the size and instrumentation of the orchestra be made with input from the Artistic Vision Committee (which includes three Musicians) and at least one Artistic Partner.

There is obviously more to our proposal, and if you are interested, the entire proposal can be read here.

On Tuesday evening, we received a response from the Musicians in the form of a new proposal. We have several questions and are not in a position to fully evaluate or respond to it without first resolving these questions. We have sent our questions to the Musician Negotiating Committee, and we have requested additional meeting dates. If you are interested, you can read the Musicians’ proposal here.

With this latest exchange of proposals, we feel that we are making progress toward a solution that is both financially and artistically viable. We will continue to work at finding a solution, and will keep you posted as we have news to share.


Dobson West, President

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra