The following is an open letter to the negotiating committee of the Minnesota Orchestra’s musicians from members of the Minnesota Orchestra’s board in response to a recent Community Voices piece.
To the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee,
Anger and misrepresentations such as those you recently expressed (“Dear Mr. Henson: Your lockout is the ‘barrier to negotiations.” ) waste time and consume energy without producing any possible positive outcome. The orchestra’s board has one goal in these contract talks: to negotiate a sustainable contract that ensures the Minnesota Orchestra’s future in our community. We continue to hope you will join us at the negotiating table to work constructively toward producing the best contract we can jointly develop.
Venting ire may be satisfying and it definitely offers a means to avoid contract talks, but it is time to stop delaying the work we sorely need to do: to sit together and negotiate back and forth over contractual options, until, together, we reach a solid result.
The fundamentals are these: The Minnesota Orchestra spends millions of dollars more each year than it earns. As with any overspending household, this creates a deficit that must be covered from some source. In our case, we’ve been taking large draws from the orchestra’s endowment to pay our musicians’ salaries and benefits during the recession, but we can’t continue to do this.
When we say this activity isn’t “sustainable” for the future, we aren’t referring to a remote future decades from now. If we continue drawing down the MOA endowment at our current rate, it will be depleted in 2018. This means the salaries that we’ll be able to offer musicians will fall from an average of $89,000 (our current offer) into the range of $60,000. And the board will have erased an endowment that was intended by the donors who contributed to it, to last into perpetuity.
We hope you understand why the board cannot let this happen. It is not for lack of respect for your talents. We want to pay you the most that our nonprofit can afford but, as a board, our responsibility isn’t just to you, our excellent current musicians.
Our responsibility is to the future of this organization. Our duty is to future concertgoers, future school children and, yes, future musicians who will be employed by the Minnesota Orchestra. We cannot squander our resources today and remain a viable organization for the future.
Vilifying President Michael Henson does not change these fundamentals. Mr. Henson did not create the fiscal problems the Minnesota Orchestra is facing. To the contrary, he has been charged by our board to resolve unsustainable financial practices and, while we accept this change is hard, it is necessary if the Orchestra is to thrive in the future.
Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians understood this. That renowned orchestra, facing the same situation — a lockout over a contract that the community couldn’t afford — chose again to partner with their board and negotiated a settlement (including a 20 percent reduction in the size of the orchestra and in pay) that focuses on the long term good of their art form rather than personal gain.
In our 2007 contract negotiations, in good faith, the board shared the good times with musicians and offered a more than 25 percent increase over five years. Now, facing challenging times, we are asking for your help, and you refuse to discuss the terms of your contract with us.
Here is the contract we are offering:
- An average salary/benefit package of $120,000;
- A minimum of 10 weeks paid vacation. (The average will actually fall between 11 and 17 paid weeks off each year.)
- No changes to a defined benefit pension plan to which the MOA contributes 7.63 percent of base salary each year and to which musicians do not make any contributions.
Our community has consistently given generously to the orchestra; our board also continues to give generously and make major future gift commitments, despite the negativity musician spokespersons have so often unleashed. Staff has been reduced by 20 percent, and those who remain have accepted wage and benefit cuts. Our audiences are tired of hearing about contracts over art and simply want the music back on the stage.
The only path to a settlement lies in board members and musicians meeting at the bargaining table to talk about real financial problems and how we can solve them, together. We are ready. Will you join us?
Nicky Carpenter and Greg Pulles
Nicky Carpenter is a Minnesota Orchestra Life Director and Greg Pulles is a Board member. Both serve on the Board Negotiating Committee.
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