In Minn. Orchestra dispute, both sides say ‘ball is in their court’

There was a sense of deja vu all over again as locked out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra gathered today outside the newly renovated, but unopened, Orchestra Hall, to announce they had unanimously rejected management’s latest proposal.


Doug Wright, Kevin Watkins, Tim Zavadil, Marcia Peck and Tony Ross, members of the locked out musicians negotiating team speaking outside Orchestra Hall to announce they have rejected management's offer made last week.

The offer was for two months of play and talk — that is, an en to the lockout that allows the musicians work under the terms of the 0ld contract while talks continued to try to reach a new contract. However, under the offer, if there was no agreement after two months, a two-year contract would go into effect that would include a 25-percent pay cut.

Orchestra officials say that would mean an average salary for musicians would be $102,000, down from the average 0f $135,000 under the old contract.

That the musicians had rejected the offer was no surprise. Their negotiators reportedly rejected a similar proposal during confidential mediation a few weeks back. Both sides say they signed agreements not to reveal what has been discussed with the mediator, but the process has been plagued by leaks, including that the mediator is former U.S. Sen. and ambassador George Mitchell.

However with the management offer last week having been made in public, negotiating committee member Tim Zavadil felt free to express exactly why the musicians reached their decision.

“We do not believe that a guaranteed 25-percent paycut, after we have been locked out for an entire year with a 100-percent paycut … keeps the Minnesota Orchestra as a world-class major league destination orchestra,” he said, standing before a crowd of musicians and supporters.  “We are asking our management and our board of directors to reconsider and accept the mediators proposal and join us back in the mediation process.”

The mediator’s proposal was for two months play and talk under the old contract, followed, if there were no agreement, by two months of play and talk with musicians taking a six percent pay cut. If after that there were still no agreement, the lockout would resume. Musicians agreed to this proposal, but management said did not.

That orchestra officials would continue to say no, also is no surprise.

“Any proposal that is only for four months is going to incur substantial deficits of nearly $3 million,” Orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson said shortly after the musicians press conference. “It does not provide a  guarantee of a full season to our patrons, and we have seen no indication that the musicians will put forward a concessionary offer that acknowledges the very serious financial challenges that we face.”

The Orchestra reported a $6 million shortfall last year.

(Musicians are now calling for the release of figures from the recently ended fiscal year, where the Minnesota Orchestral Association presented no concerts.)

Henson called the musicians vote to reject the board proposal “disappointing.”

So what’s next?

“The ball is very firmly in the musicians court to return to the table with a proposal for us to discuss that acknowledges the financial challenges,” Henson said “We remain committed to return to that table, this afternoon, over the weekend, or at any point in the next 10 days or so to try to find a resolution.”

“The ball remains in their court, as it has been for over a year,” musician representative Blois Olson said.

Both sides also say they are ready to talk at any time, although the musicians have specified they want the lockout lifted first.

This is all paying out over the backdrop of Music Director Osmo Vanska’s declaration he would resign if Carnegie Hall cancels two Minnesota Orchestra concerts in early November because the musicians have not rehearsed regularly enough to ensure the quality demanded of such an occasion. He has said to be ready he needs to be rehearsing with musicians by the week of September 30.

For that to happen there needs to be a deal by Sept 15, just 10 days from now, orchestra officials say.

It seems like a tall order given that, for all the red hot rhetoric of the dispute since the lock out began Oct. 1, the two sides have only met  face-to-face a couple handful of times since then. Everything else has been done through lawyers letters, press releases, and the confidential mediation process, which all parties admit is essentially pre-mediation because they are still trying to find a framework in which to talk.

However both sides do hold out some hope.

“It’s do-able,” musician negotiator Marcia Peck said in response to a question about reaching a deal before the the Vanska deadline.

” I think its extremely possible for us to achieve a deal if we are able to sit down in three or four hours,” Henson said, “if both parties have the intent to actually find a resolution.”

So now the race is on. It’s likely the next 10 days will be very busy for all involved in the dispute.

Work on the controversial expansion of the Orchestra Hall lobby is apparently almost complete. As musicians gathered for a press conference outside the building today, one supporter asked if due to the lock out it was going to be renamed just as "Hall." (MPR photo/Euan Kerr)