Orchestra labor dispute is over; musicians back to work Feb. 1

orchestra 2The 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.

Doug Kelley, vice chairman of negotiations committee of the board of directors, said the contract signed today was true compromise.

“Nobody got everything they wanted in this,” Kelley said. “The musicians told us it was extremely important for them to stay in the top ten orchestras in the country, and this contract allows them to do that. From the board of directors’ perspective, it was extremely important for us that we get some savings from this contract.”

Negotiations seemed to grind to a halt in recent months. Orchestra managers argued that cuts to musicians’ salaries and benefits were needed so the orchestra would remain viable into the future.

Musicians said that lower wages would undermine the orchestra’s position as a world-class institution. They also claimed that management was putting money before artistic excellence.

“You don’t lock out people from their jobs for this long without there at least being some lingering feeling,” musicians spokesperson Blois Olson said following the announcement. “The key point is that people came back together. The real test will be in the future weeks and months as the audience returns.”

Kelley said management is ready to rebuild the orchestra, and plans to work closely with musicians to move past the long labor dispute.

“I know that there’s a little scar tissue here, but I hope that they’ll come in and recognize that we all have to work together,” Kelley said.

The stalemate led Music Director Osmo Vanska to resign on Oct. 1 after having to cancel two Minnesota Orchestra concerts at Carnegie Hall because the musicians had not rehearsed regularly enough to ensure the quality demanded of such an occasion.

Under Vanska’s leadership, the orchestra received two Grammy nominations, toured nationally and internationally, and made two high-profile appearances at Carnegie Hall and the Proms in London.

Clarinetist and musician negotiator Tim Zavadil said it’s uncertain whether Vanska will return.

“As we said then, on Oct. 1, it was devastating,” Zavadil said. “We continue to believe that it will only make us stronger if Osmo returns.”

The extended lockout led to a drop in public confidence in the orchestra, even as it continued to collect donations.

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