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Dear Mr. Henson: Your lockout is the ‘barrier to negotiations’

Our aim is to work together to maintain and grow the world-class, world-renowned orchestra that this community has worked so hard to build over the past 110 years.

locked out musicians
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have been locked out since Oct. 1.

The following is an open letter to Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson, in response to a MinnPost Q & A, “Michael Henson, MN Orchestra president: It’s time for musicians to negotiate,” published April 11.

Dear Mr. Henson,

As the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra enter our seventh month of being locked out of our jobs without salary or benefits, we wanted to remind you, as well as the public, our audience, and MinnPost readers, of some facts regarding our “negotiations”:

  1. Since April 2012, you have demanded $5 million in annual reductions from the musicians. Without input from the community, you have insisted on an over-reaching and draconian reduction in the orchestra’s budget and scope that would destroy the world-class standing of the orchestra as we know it. You have not moved from that position.

  2. The musicians have always been ready and willing to negotiate and have offered several proposals, including binding arbitration and play-and-talk with a no-strike guarantee. You rejected all of them.

  3. When first approached during the depths of the recession in 2009, the musicians voluntarily gave back $4.5 million in contract concessions. When approached again in 2010, the musicians offered an additional $1.5 million in concessions. You rejected them.

  4. Since your arrival in 2008, you have actively divided musicians, board members, and staff through your actions and misleading or inaccurate reports. Even worse, our audience has been completely alienated by the lockout. Our formerly positive workplace, envied throughout the industry, has become increasingly toxic and hostile since your arrival, and trust has been destroyed.

  5. When Mayor R.T. Rybak and the orchestra’s largest benefactor, Judy Dayton, invited you and board members to participate in a celebratory Grammy nomination concert as an attempt to build good will and end the lock-out, you rejected them and refused to attend the concert.

  6. When securing bonding funds in 2010, you testified to the Minnesota Legislature that you had “reported 3 years of balanced budgets.” According to MOA Board meeting minutes, your plan was to declare huge deficits 2 years later in order to ‘improve’ your negotiating position. This has led us to call for an independent financial analysis to gain a clearer understanding of what the orchestra’s financial situation actually is. The Legislative Auditor is currently investigating your testimony to determine if the legislature was misled to secure taxpayers dollars.

  7. The MOA Board minutes of January 26, 2012, reveal that you had formed a ‘Work Stoppage Committee’ almost three months before you made your proposal to musicians, prompting the question, “Was this lockout planned in coordination with the $52 million building project all along?”

  8. You reduced the marketing budget by 25%, leading to a significant decline in revenue from ticket sales. During a period when the orchestra was receiving increased critical acclaim at home and abroad, (including a review from The New Yorker proclaiming we “sounded like the greatest orchestra in the world”), none of these accomplishments were used to reach new audiences or promote our “product.” Under your direction, the orchestra’s development department has seen the level of annual contributions decline precipitously. With a reduction in all revenue streams under your tenure, the musicians have no faith in your plan for the future of this orchestra.

  9. Your lockout is now threatening recording projects, a prestigious Carnegie Hall concert series, future European invitations, the opening season of the renovated Orchestra Hall, as well as the very tenure of our acclaimed Music Director, Osmo Vanska.

  10. Every peer American symphony orchestra in negotiations this past year (Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, National) has settled reasonable contracts with modest increases or freezes in compensation. No other top tier symphony orchestra has insisted its musicians take a 30-50% cut in pay, along with drastic changes to their working conditions. Under your direction, the enormity and eviscerating scope of the changes presented in the management’s “final offer” are inherently destructive to the core identity of this orchestra and the international reputation it has built. The musicians simply cannot endorse such an extreme and risky plan.

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Your lockout is the “barrier to negotiations.” We call on you to act in the spirit of Minnesota’s civic culture of respect and transparency. End the lockout in order to restart the high quality music of the orchestra that you profess to maintain for our state. Our aim is to work together to maintain and grow the world-class, world-renowned orchestra that this community has worked so hard to build over the past 110 years.

In order to begin, you must end the lockout.

The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra 

Tim Zavadil, Doug Wright, Burt Hara, Tony Ross and Cathy Schubilske are the musicians’ negotiating committee.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below, or consider writing a Community Voices commentary. For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at