Twin Cities orchestras continue lockout through holidays

Anna Schwartz, Staff Writer

Minnesota will have to go without holiday concerts this year. Lockouts, a tool used to negotiate labor disputes, have taken two of Minnesota’s orchestras down for the season, and now Minnesota has lost their holiday performances until 2013.

Beginning October 1st, members of the Minnesota Orchestra have been locked out of the orchestra premises, and have been suspended from working, closely followed by the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Lockouts have been gaining popularity in the country lately as a method of negotiation. This is shown in the lockout of the National Football League referees and the lockouts of musicians across the country, including both the Atlanta and Indianapolis Symphonies.

These measures incite strong feelings among residents in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, including those of South teacher and orchestra director Lorie Hippen.  She maintains that the measures are unfair, and that the musicians’ protests against wage cuts are reasonable.

“It would be in keeping with the other orchestras at their level in other parts of the country,” Hippen said. “They should be paid the same.  I’m against the strong-arm tactics being used against them.”

Used as an extreme measure, lockouts often end contract and labor disputes quickly. However, for the orchestras of Minnesota, confusion between the musicians and administrations has slowed down proceedings, and performances have been shut down until the new year.

One of the more contested and vague issues is the question of secrecy in contract proceedings.  In an open letter issued to the public, a committee for the administration of the Minnesota Orchestra (MOA) wrote, “over the past three years we met regularly with our musicians and others with a stake in our future to share the clarity of our financial challenges and the road map forward outlined in the strategic plan.”

On the musicians’ blog, their summary states that “the new model was developed and the mission statement rewritten in secret” by the leaders of MOA. Additionally, the musicians assert that the administration is planning “30% to 50% pay cuts to musicians salaries,” a figure that the administration has since claimed to be false.

The same confusion exists between the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s (SPCO) administration and musicians.  The musicians are currently fighting against a new budget that would cut their salaries, along with other expenses.

Hippen believes that the salary cuts shouldn’t be held up in the orchestras.  “It would be like the NFL wanting to cut the wages of the players by 30% because they didn’t balance their books,” she said.  “And would that ever fly? No. So why should it here? It’s a high-level orchestra.”

Another cost-cutting measure being considered is decreasing the size of the orchestra.  Many musicians are either looking for other work, or are already employed elsewhere.  In the SPCO, the remaining musicians believe that this smaller orchestra could be used for the time being, as many musicians are away during this conflict.  However, the administration maintained a desire for a permanent, smaller orchestra.

While the negotiations are still moving slowly, all formal performances have been cancelled by the orchestras until 2013.  This includes shows by big-name acts that were to travel into Minnesota to perform.  The lack of music for the community may be the biggest drawback of these negotiations.  It is certainly on Hippen’s mind.  “The Twin Cities won’t have music for the holidays,” she said. “I guess I’m going to have to go to New York.”

However, the musicians of each orchestra have organized ways to provide the community with at least a small amount of their music.  The SPCO Musicians Association gave a free concert, hosted by Garrison Keillor, in early October.  Additionally, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra held a lock-out pep rally.

Both orchestras plan to hold concerts in December as well, the SPCO hosted conductor and violinist Pinchas Zukerman on December 2, and the Minnesota Orchestra will be holding an Ode to Joy concert on December 15-16.