Minnesota Orchestra Labor Dispute is Over

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The longest labor dispute in the history of American orchestras ended on Tuesday when the Minnesota Orchestra signed a collective bargaining agreement with its unionized musicians, who have been locked out since October 2012.

The three-year contract, which takes effect February 1, will cut base pay by 15 percent, to $96,824 from about $113,000 currently. Salaries will rise to $99,008 in the second year of the contract and to $102,284 in year three. Musicians will agree to contribute “a significantly greater portion of health insurance costs,” though the nature of those contributions was not disclosed.

Citing a $6 million deficit, the orchestra originally had called for cuts of between 30 and 40 percent in base salaries, to as low as $78,000. In a press release on Tuesday, the two sides noted that the contract will keep salaries at among the ten highest in American orchestras, which was a key musician priority.

The long lockout has brought national attention to the Minnesota Orchestra, which has received widespread praise for its artistic excellence. The entire 2012-13 season was canceled, as well as the first five months of the current season. State, city and civic leaders all sought to end the dispute and outside mediators were called in, including former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (he did not figure in the talks after October, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune).

Concerts are now scheduled to resume in early February at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, which underwent a controversial, $50 million renovation during the lockout. Still, the dispute leaves many imponderables. The orchestra’s music director, Osmo Vänskä, quit last fall after a planned concert series at Carnegie Hall was canceled. So did Aaron Jay Kernis, the head of the orchestra’s Composer Institute. Vänskä has not commented on the deal.

The orchestra has also lost a number of key players during the dispute, shrinking to 77 members; both sides agree that 95 is the optimal number. The agreement calls for seven musicians to be hired over the contract’s three-year term.

One somewhat unusual term in the contract states that there is “mutual agreement on the organization’s classical music focus, with a guaranteed minimum of 20 weeks of classical performances each year” – presumably a protection against shifting towards too much pops or non-traditional repertoire.

The response on Twitter was swift on Tuesday: