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In all the understandable hubbub over federal budgets and a certain governor's bridge-mediated scandal this week, among other matters, you would easily be forgiven for not quite paying attention to the settlement of the longest orchestra labor dispute in US history.  Yet that last item is just what happened this past Tuesday, when the musicians and the board of the Minnesota Orchestra settled on a new contract that ended the 488-day lockout of the musicians from Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis.  To call this a nasty story would be the understatement of the year, certainly in musical and artistic circles.  More below the flip.....

The main reporter from the Star-Tribune on the Minnesota Orchestra situation has been Graydon Royce, including his report on the settlement at here, which summarizes the contract conditions:

"...a three-year deal that cuts salaries and benefits roughly 15 percent. The average salary would drop to $118,000 in the first year, from $135,000 under the expired contract. There are small salary increases in the second two years, which musicians said would reduce the total cut to 10 percent. Musicians would pay significantly more for health care."
Euan Kerr of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) had this report which noted that at the start of the whole mess, management had asked for much larger wage concessions:
"Management locked out the musicians in October 2012 after the musicians rejected a contract proposal calling for 35 percent salary cuts and a myriad of changes in work rules.

The orchestra reported a $6 million shortfall in 2012. Its management has insisted that cutting salaries is essential to putting the institution on a sound financial footing."

In of itself, the proposal for a 35% salary cut already seems insane (but there's a bit of background down the scroll).  This took on extra outrage in the eyes of supporters of the musicians, when there had been a $50 million campaign to renovate Orchestra Hall, as Royce noted with some understatement:
"Observers were surprised that an orchestra with a seemingly healthy endowment and a $50 million expansion at Orchestra Hall would be asking for drastic salary cuts."
BTW, Royce has to tread carefully, because the publisher and CEO of the Star-Tribune, Michael Klingensmith, is on the Minnesota Orchestra board of directors.  Regarding the board, perhaps the main villain in the eyes of the musicians (or one of two main villains) is the board chair, Jon Campbell of Wells Fargo Bank, who took an ultra-hard line on demanding musician salary cuts, as Kerr noted in a separate report.  However, Campbell is stepping down as chairman of the orchestra's board, although presumably he'll still have a seat on the board:
"The musicians say they are heartened by expected changes in board leadership. Board Chair Jon Campbell, who held the line on calling for major salary cuts, will step down now a settlement has been reached.

Campbell and CEO and President Michael Henson took months of heavy criticism from musicians' supporters who became a community in themselves."

Getting back to the issue of the renovation of the hall, I've been to Orchestra Hall twice, just over 10 years ago, and with all due respect to the good folks of the Twin Cities, it's far from the greatest concert hall on the planet at least acoustically.  I've heard random rumblings that the infrastructure of the hall severely needed updating.  Hence the campaign to raise funds to renovate the hall, which is eminently understandable, and kudos to those who ponied up the money for it.  The campaign to renovate the hall was obviously a separate one regarding any sort of general fund-raising for the orchestra, since other groups besides the Minnesota Orchestra could use the hall, either renting it, or other acts (pop, jazz, etc.) could play the hall.  

But here's the cognitive dissonance part that the top-dog defenders of the board either didn't get, or acknowledge publicly:  if they could do such a great job raising funds for the hall, why couldn't they do the same thing with raising funds for the musicians, and for the endowment as a whole?  I don't have an answer there, besides cynical speculation.  As to why the initial demand for salary cuts was so draconian, this is the other bit of the back story from several years ago, which, in hindsight, unwittingly laid the groundwork for this whole mess.  MPR's Kerr and Paul Tosto noted back in August 2012:

"Lucrative contracts signed before the recession set the Minnesota Orchestra up for a big fall.

The orchestra in 2007 agreed to a five-year contract with its musicians to raise performers' annual base wages 25 percent to $118,170, by 2011-2012.

Less than a year into the contract, the stock market collapsed, putting a serious dent in the orchestra's endowment and ticket sales. Musicians in 2009 agreed to forgo $4.2 million in wages in the contract's final three years, bringing the 2012 minimum down to about $111,566, still 17 percent more than 2006-2007."

In other words, the conspiracy theorists on the musicians side feel that the board wanted to walk back this 2007 deal, and to play ultra-hardball in doing so.  In the context of that 35% pay proposal, the musicians understandably rejected that proposal flat out, which management probably expected, to be really cynical.  The extreme thinking on the musicians' side is that the board wanted to go all out with union-busting, big time, as Russell Platt snarkily noted in Russell Platt had this blog post at The New Yorker:
"The administration and board's vision of a Right to Work Philharmonic - an ecstatic future in which the power of musicians' unions is finally brought to heel - has been exposed as morally bankrupt and artistically obtuse. (One of the few events that has taken place in Orchestra Hall since it reopened, last fall, was a meeting on right-to-work laws and streamlining state government given by the Center of [sic] the American Experiment, a conservative Minnesota think tank.)"
However, as much as I'm on the side of musicians in this dispute, they did make at least one major tactical error.  From what I can tell, at the time, they did not propose a counter-offer.  Management and the board harped on this apparent lack of a counter-offer, big time, after they instituted the lockout, probably thinking (in a lame attempt at mind reading on self's part) that the musicians don't have a clue that we have financial problems here in terms of falling attendance at concerts, weak performance of the endowment, and apparently having to raid the endowment to help with expenses.  (It's necessary to remember that with a large arts institution, the whole point of having an endowment is to use the earnings and interest from the endowment for organizational expenses, not the actual endowment itself.  In other words, you don't want to eat the seed corn prior to planting.).  Keep in mind that the management, in their thinking, kept the hall fundraising issue (loads of $$ there) separate from the musician's salaries and the actual orchestra endowment (perceived OMG there).  From what I can tell, the public who paid attention to the orchestra situation didn't buy into that separation.

Perhaps the musicians felt so insulted by such a proposal for a huge pay cut that they didn't want to "dignify it with any sort of response".  In retrospect, though, they should at least given some sort of counter-offer, something like 7-8% or thereabouts.  This is the one tactical error that I mean.  To be somewhat cynical, what I mean is that the management would probably have rejected any counter-offer that the musicians would have made.  (Read this if you want to understand why.)  The point is that making some sort of counter-offer, even if management was going to reject it no matter what, would have taken that weapon out of management's hands, and would have conveyed to the public the message that "we're willing to sacrifice and help, but management's offer was unreasonable.  Our newly proposed concessions are reasonable".

But that's alternative history, which didn't happen.  The point now is where do they all go from here.  This isn't so easy, because in addition to the bad blood between upper management/the board and the musicians, the orchestra has no music director.  Osmo Vänskä, the very, very, very good and highly acclaimed Finnish conductor who became the orchestra's music director in 2003, resigned back at the end of September/beginning of October 2013, fulfilling his threat to quit if the orchestra didn't settle things in time for everyone to get ready for scheduled concerts at Carnegie Hall this season.  The locked-out musicians assembled a series of ad hoc concerts, operating under the name of "Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra" (hence this diary's title), and Vänskä returned for one as his nominal "farewell" to the Twin Cities.

Normally, when there's a dispute between orchestra musicians and management in contract negotiations, the music director tries to stay out and simply utter public platitudes that "I hope that both sides can reach an agreement".  Given Vänskä 's appearance with the musicians in that concert post-lockout, however, it's not hard to guess where his sympathies lie, even if he couldn't say it in so many words.  It's tricky there, because management of other American orchestras can block appearances by conductors who appear to be too much on the side of musicians in such disputes.  This reportedly happened with the American conductor Lawrence Foster back when there was a strike at the Houston Symphony back in the 1970's.  He explicitly made a public comment in favor of the musicians.  His career was canned then in Houston, and pretty much in the USA since, as most of his efforts have been in Europe.

Vänskä is probably the one person who could build up the orchestra to a relatively strong level faster than any other conductor out there.  Royce had this article on the question of whether Vänskä might return.  The article has this tidbit:

"Vänskä was flying from Finland to Israel on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment, but a tantalizing item appeared in the Helsingin Sanomat, Finland's largest newspaper. In response to Facebook pleas for his return to Minnesota, the conductor reportedly posted: 'I'm going to try! But they have to ask me!'"
For the record, the article from Helsingin Sanomat is at this link.  The relevant part of the article is as follows (with the 2nd paragraph in actually a pretty good Google Translation)
"Kapellimestari Osmo Vänskä lupaa yrittää palata Minnesotaan nyt, kun Minnesotan orkesterin pitkä ja katkera työsulku päättyi keskiviikkona aamuyöllä Suomen aikaa.

"Minä aion yrittää!! Mutta heidän täytyy kysyä minua ensin!!!" hän vastasi englanniksi Facebookin sivuilla saatuaan lukuisia pyyntöjä palata."

Google Translation:  "Conductor Osmo Vänskä to try and go back to Minnesota now that the Minnesota Orchestra, the long and bitter lockout ended on Wednesday in the morning Finnish time.

"I'm going to try! But they have to ask me first!" he replied in English Facebook pages after receiving numerous requests to return."

In other words, now with the dispute settled and everyone nominally back to work at Orchestra Hall, the invitation would no longer be from the musicians for Vänskä to return, but from the orchestra management and staff.  The musicians can apply pressure and express their opinion, but they cannot extend the invitation themselves.  If the management were to invite Vänskä back in some capacity, at least, that may be a huge step towards rebuilding the burnt bridges.  This is kind of reason enough to think that management may not be smart enough then, operating on the principle of Murphy's Law (or the Peter Principle).

To try to get things rolling again, the orchestra has announced some quickly assembled concerts for February.  The first is on Friday 2/7/14, with the orchestra's conductor laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski on the podium.  Skrowaczewski, or "Stan" to the orchestra's musicians, was very outspoken in his support of the musicians, but he has the advantage, such as it is, over Vanska in that Skrowaczewski is 90, i.e. he's not worried about his career prospects.  The second concert, a week later, is an all-English concert, with the French (go figure) conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, and the British cellist Steven Isserlis (there we go).  Audience members will get a free CD of Sibelius recorded by the Minnesota Orchestra at either concert; not a bad deal.

I don't doubt that the musicians will get a tumultous reception from the audiences there, and I fully expect that both concerts will sell out pretty fast.  (People there had better show up, if the public really wants the orchestra to survive.)  What will be interesting to see if Michael Henson dares to set foot on stage, given that he is probably one of the single most despised people in Minneapolis over this whole mess.  I don't know, and of course I won't be there, so I'll have no idea.  If anyone on DK goes, maybe there will be a blog about it, as there has been occasionally in the past.

So if you're still here after reading/skimming over all this, feel free to chit-chat about it below, or observe the standard SNLC protocol, even if I'm not quite about to in absentia.....

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