Seven Reasons Why I’m Leery Of The MOA’s “New Proposal”

The management of the Minnesota Orchestra went public with an offer to musicians yesterday. I hesitate to call it new. It was presented outside of the auspices of the mediator management had chosen (aka Senator George Mitchell, aka The Man Who Brought Peace To Ireland).

I’ll get right to the heart of the matter. Here are seven major concerns I as a patron have about this proposal. Until these concerns are addressed to my satisfaction, I just can’t support it.

So. In countdown-style reverse-number order:

7) Will this proposal fulfill the Minnesota Orchestra’s mission statement of fostering “a symphony orchestra internationally recognized for its artistic excellence”? I’d say no. The proposal does very little to repair the MOA’s reputation in the eyes of new musicians the MOA needs to court if they want to sustain world-class quality.

On the other hand, I might have said yes…

  • if this proposal had been issued back in September 2012
  • if the crappy ridiculous work rule changes that didn’t have much, if anything, to do with money were removed
  • and if the management had allowed full access to analysis of its books and business plans, and demonstrated competency and transparency

But as it is, the MOA has demonstrated its love of disingenuous double-speak for a full year now, and the MOA has consistently used fuzzy math over that time, and a lot of people (not just musicians) doubt the need for cuts of this size, so… They need to do more to attract new world-class players.

6) Why ignore the proposal of the mediator the MOA itself picked? I mean, what’s the point of this, unless the MOA was trying to make the statement that they’re too good for George Mitchell, but they’re too scared to say that out loud because they know it’ll make them look like d-bags?

5) The management hasn’t yet addressed details about the proposal. What’s happening with sub pay? They better have great sub pay in order to get qualified players to fill all those empty seats while auditions are ongoing. How many seats does Michael Henson want to see the orchestra have? What will be the schedule for filling empty seats? What about the clause that allows wealthy people to hire musicians for their birthday parties and bar mitvahs? Who has the final authority to hire new musicians? What about injury leave? What’s the role of the CEO in the “new business model”? I mean, the details go on and on and on. The fact that the MOA did not present these – after initially sharing all of them in September – lead me to believe the majority of their “new” proposals are actually more of the same. This is troubling. These non-salary changes will affect the quality of the orchestra way more than the pay cuts will.

4) In a mere two years, the musicians and union will be weakened financially, emotionally, and spiritually, and will have great great difficulty mounting a battle if Henson and the board want to come back and “finish the job.” And the Minnesota audience will – understandably – have a limited appetite for a third orchestral lockout in three years. (And who knows where the SPCO will be at the end of their contract…oy…)

3) If you look at this from a three-year contract perspective, you could argue the cuts are 50% over the life of the contract (if you use one of several possible equations). The MOA gave the musicians a 100% cut in the 2012-2013 season, then would give a 25% cut in 2013-2014 and a 25% cut in 2014-2015. That’s a lot. Is this really so much a sweetened deal as it is drawing from money saved by not paying musicians for a year? I don’t have the answer to that question, but it would be interesting to know.

2) No pathways for communication have been set up between board and public. This is a huge concern. Okay, I know audience members aren’t part of the actual negotiations, and it would be thorny if they were. But the unprecedented outcry and anger toward the board hasn’t been acknowledged once. In fact, I hear rumors of really rude responses being sent by board members to people who took time to email their concerns. Plus, no one has offered a sensible explanation of Domaingate (“protecting the Orchestra’s name”? really?). No one has been held accountable for anything when it comes to the mistreatment and abuse of customers. In order that the MOA can start rebuilding trust within the broader community, any new contract proposal needs to come along with a new attitude from those at the top. And I’m not seeing that attitude. At all.

1) The expiration of the proposed contract coincides with Osmo’s departure in the spring of 2015. This is the most important point of all, and I haven’t heard anyone else mention it. I think any outside observer can see that board leadership is not fond of Osmo Vanska, and I doubt Osmo Vanska is at this point particularly fond of them. Plus, he’s the highest-paid employee at the MOA. I can just imagine how the board is salivating to cut that bit out of the budget. If he somehow survives the autumn in Minnesota, it’s pretty likely he’ll be taking his final bows at Orchestra Hall in the summer of 2015. So: guess where that leaves us. That’s right: in an even worse position than we are today. Yes, we’d buy two years of performances, but at what price?

What will the musicians do? I don’t know. What should they do? I don’t know. Hopefully we as patrons wait to make final judgments until we know more details. Plus, let’s keep in mind that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes we simply don’t know about.

But. That being said, knowing the limited amount I know, if I was a musician, I’d vote no. (Not sure what, if any, counterproposal I’d present; I’d listen to my well-respected lawyer’s advice about what to do there.) I’d then work my butt off to try to present a series of concerts in the fall of 2013, perhaps with the support of a fired-up patron advocacy group. And maybe for some of those concerts I’d investigate the feasibility of hiring a well-respected conductor…who might find certain weeks in his fall calendar suddenly empty.


Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

12 responses to “Seven Reasons Why I’m Leery Of The MOA’s “New Proposal”

  1. Bill Slobotski

    I believe that any proposal by the musicians should require that they have representation on the board to help minimize this unnecessary mess from ever happening again.

  2. There is no irony that I was put on a plane out of State in December 2012 due to my inside knowledge.

  3. Karin

    New board needed and it is so obvious.

  4. David Fortner

    The only way you get a new board is to get a new orchestra. Get busy, find donors, and make a new one. The present organization is dead.

  5. Sarah

    Re the SPCO – mgmt refused to negotiate on raising ticket prices, even though the musicians proposed a modest increase of $2-10 per ticket. Now I see that a $2/ticket “service charge” has been tacked onto every single ticket. I called the ticket office and was told that “ticket prices are the same”. Well, it’s all semantics, because the customer ends up paying more. And given the number of empty seats (take a look online), that $2 might not be a good source of “revenue enhancement”.

  6. Sarah

    Regarding the birthdays and bar mitzvahs – does that mean that the musicians would basically be pimped out?

  7. Elizabeth Erickosn

    Sarah, that’s my understanding— sort of like Tiger Woods selling peanuts and beer and of course popcorn (Hi Emily) at the concession stand at the Masters tournament.

  8. osagegelder

    Why did Osmo remain quiet so long? If he had been courageous and suitably outraged he should have spoken up on behalf of musicians weeks or months before he did. Now he’s waffling about his red line in the sand; first he was going to resign in early September, now he’s waiting until later in the month. My guess is that his cooperation and silence was insured with that very peachy contract. He can not be the savior of this debacle.

    • Sarah

      Osagegelder, Osmo was legally in a different place than the musicians and had to be careful per “that very peachy contract”. He has been very supportive of all of the musician and audience initiatives. The letter which he wrote months ago was not well-received; the Board basically wants him gone. He’s too much of a threat to their all-consuming need for total control.

  9. Pingback: Calling the questions. | non divisi

  10. In trying to get this out to folks outside the usual realm of the classical music loving world (but with people who still support the arts and who also support labor) I posted something on Daily Kos – which includes links to your posts. Fingers crossed we’ll get more people involved. This whole “Good Faith” bargaining thing seems to be confusing to a lot of people! (Hope you don’t mind the inclusion of this post link)

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