Minn. Orchestra, SPCO contract negotiations still without agreementby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — There was a great deal of heat, and not much light, as contract wrangling continued Monday at Minnesota's two top orchestras.
Management and musicians negotiators met all day with a federal mediator. However, five months after Minnesota Orchestra management put forward its proposal, musician negotiator Tim Zavadil said players still don't have enough information to respond properly.
"We renewed our call for an independent joint financial analysis of the orchestras finances so we can better understand the orchestra's true financial position," Zavadil said after talks wrapped up for the day.
Management's offer would cut the average pay of musicians from $135,000 to $89,000 annually. The leadership said cuts are necessary in the face of looming deficits, and as a way to make the orchestra sustainable for the future.
Musicians say this will represent a 30 to 50 percent cut for individual players. They say their primary concern is to maintain the orchestra's world class reputation and such cuts will lead to musicians leaving for better paying jobs at other orchestras. A request by the players negotiating committee to speak to a meeting of the full board of the orchestra scheduled to follow the talks was denied.
Management representatives declined to talk after the day's negotiation, however a representative of management said the negotiating committee will meet Tuesday to work on providing answers to requests for further information made by the musicians negotiating team on Monday.
No further negotiating date is set for both sides, and the current contract runs out Sunday. However Zavadil says the musicians are available all week to talk.
In St. Paul, management of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra rejected a counterproposal offered by its musicians over the weekend.
Two and a half weeks ago, management put forward a proposal to cut musicians' guaranteed pay by 15 percent to $62,500, reduce the number of players in the orchestra by 6 to 28, and to offer buyouts to players aged 55 and over. Any new musicians would be hired at a base pay of $50,000.
The musicians' counterproposal offered a three-year contract with a 1 percent pay cut for the first two years, followed by a 4 percent increase in the third year. It would maintain the number of musicians at current levels.
SPCO interim President Dobson West said that at a time when the organization is looking to save $1.5 million each year, the musicians offer would save a total of only $100,000 over three years.
West said, "$100,000 or $200,000, it mean it doesn't even touch the issues that we have.
"Particularly since by the end of the contract, the contract would be costing essentially the same, if not slightly more, than it does today."
Carole Mason Smith, chair of the SPCO musicians negotiating committee, called West's reaction disappointing. She said there was clearly a very different understanding of the best direction for the future of the organization, and buying out experienced players to replace them with younger less expensive musicians is a misplaced investment.
"We're disappointed in management's reluctance to see the long term consequences of its short-sighted offer," Mason Smith said. "They say they have found several million dollars. Yet they want to use that money to buy people out rather than to preserve the quality of the ensemble."
SPCO management asked for another counterproposal which will save more money. Mason Smith said her group will meet to decide what to do in coming days. The next negotiating sessions for SPCO musicians and management are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
With both the SPCO and Minnesota orchestra musicians contracts due to run out at the weekend, people involved in the talks say the deadline may pass with little fanfare. It's common practice in orchestral negotiations to 'play and talk' — that is, continue under the existing contract until there is either a settlement or an impasse, a lock-out or a strike.
Outwardly all sides say they are looking for a settlement, but with just days to go, it's increasingly unclear there will be agreements by Oct. 1.