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St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s pitch produces movement in chamber orchestra dispute

Coleman says after losing half the NHL season, he knows how a lockout can hurt a city.

coleman portrait
Mayor Chris Coleman

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman met last week with both sides in the months-long St. Paul Chamber Orchestra dispute, prompting a new offer from the management that curtails some of the cuts that had been proposed.

The contract with musicians expired last fall, leading to a lockout. (The Minnesota Orchestra’s contract expired at the same time, and there’s a lockout there, too.)

Coleman jumped into the fray because the orchestra was nearing the point of canceling all its remaining performances for the year.

“We know that lockouts can have damaging effects on a city; we just lost half of an NHL season,” said Joe Campbell, Coleman’s spokesperson. “We need to do everything we can to move this along. We need a season.”

While SPCO management has revised its demands for cuts, Campbell said it’s too early to tell whether the dispute can be resolved.

“But at least there’s some movement,” he said.

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The orchestra management had been seeking $1.5 million in savings before Coleman made his pitch.

The new offer raises the guaranteed minimum salary to $60,000, up $4,000 from the previous offer. The minimum under the old contract was $78,000. Management also says that no current musicians would lose their jobs as the orchestra begins to shrink from 34 members to 28.

The musicians will meet to consider the new offer.

Management is looking for a”play and talk” scenario, in which critical issues are resolved up front and concerts resume, with remaining terms negotiated by June 30.

In a letter on the SPCO web site, President Dobson West said:

Last week, Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman stepped into the negotiations with our Musicians to seek a resolution. He expressed his concern forcefully to both sides that the remainder of our concert season is at risk and a cancellation of that season would result in serious long-term consequences for the SPCO and the City.

Mayor Coleman urged the Society to come forward with a new proposal containing significant concessions. As we explained to the Mayor, from the outset we have stated that our financial challenge requires $1.5 million in savings from the Musician contract to insure our financial sustainability. While we have been willing to be very flexible in terms of how we achieve this level of savings, our financial need is real and unchanging. That said, after some very frank discussion with the Mayor and some of our major donors, we have been convinced that we must take some additional financial risk in order to avoid the devastating consequences that could ensue from the cancellation of the balance of the season.

Dobson also said that if an agreement isn’t reached by April 3,”we will be forced to cancel the remainder of the season which would not only jeopardize our fall concerts but also significantly impact our ongoing fundraising efforts, putting the Society at serious risk.”

All concerts through April 21 already have been canceled.