The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have now been locked out by the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) for more than six months, and there appears to be no end in sight. Concerts have been canceled through April 27, and despite the recent resumption of some limited talks surrounding our request for an independent financial analysis of the MOA’s past practices and future plans, there is no evidence that our management has any intention of working towards a fair and equitable agreement, or of presenting a concert season of any length while a new $52 million lobby for Orchestra Hall is under construction.
The obstacles that the MOA has quite deliberately placed in the way of a new collective bargaining agreement are so numerous that it is hard to conceive of a way that we might chart a path forward. We are miles apart on salary and benefits, but even if we magically came to agreement on those issues tomorrow, we could still be months away from a settlement because of MOA’s insistence on nearly 300 changes to our working conditions. And even if those nearly 300 changes somehow ceased to be a matter of dispute, we would still not be anywhere close to returning to work, since the MOA has canceled the individual contracts of every member of the orchestra and is seeking to entirely eliminate individually negotiated overscale and relief time. It is clear, and has been clear since before the lockout began, that the current corporate leadership team at MOA intends to gut the Minnesota Orchestra as an institution, and that no one on the management side of the table cares how long it takes to accomplish that goal, or what damage is wrought in the meantime.
The good news (and there is some!) is that the musicians of the orchestra have found ourselves the beneficiaries of boundless good will and support since this nightmare season began. Public sentiment in Minneapolis and Saint Paul has been overwhelmingly on our side, with letters of support pouring into our web site and waves of protest directed at the MOA.
Three of our former music directors—Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Neville Marriner, and Edo deWaart—penned a joint letter in the Minneapolis Star Tribune warning that the MOA’s plans would lead to disaster, and Stan and Edo went so far as to volunteer their time and talent to lead us in three self-produced concerts, all of which sold out and turned a profit.
Our current music director, Osmo Vänskä, made history on February 1 by appearing with his orchestra in the middle of the lockout. The concert he conducted (which more than sold out a 2,500-seat venue despite bone-chilling cold and an unexpected snowstorm) was proposed by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and longtime Minnesota Orchestra benefactor Judy Dayton as a celebration of our recent Grammy nomination. According to Rybak and Dayton, this was intended to be a truly neutral event, free from acrimony and offered as a chance for all sides to come together and celebrate music for one night. In the weeks leading up to the performance, we invited the MOA management team to appear with us at the concert to announce an end to the lockout and a truly fresh start in negotiations. Two days before the concert, our proposal was flatly rejected, the MOA decided unilaterally to end a weeks-long media blackout with a disingenuous press release, and MOA staff and board members were ordered not to attend the concert.
Despite their absence, the concert was a roaring success, with one local critic writing that, “In Vänskä’s turbocharged account—the most rousing I’ve ever heard—[Sibelius’s Finlandia] became a political act, dispelling any lingering questions as to the conductor’s impartiality.”
While our situation could not be more dire, and there appears little light at the end of the tunnel as yet, we remain absolutely steadfast in our determination to preserve our orchestra’s 110-year legacy. We are organized, we are united, we are well-supported, and we are prepared to remain locked out for one day longer than the MOA continues to insist that it can build for the future only by demolishing the present.
We owe a profound debt of gratitude to our lawyer, Bruce Simon, and also to AFM Local 30-73 President Brad Eggen and his fellow officers. The Minnesota AFL-CIO and its Working Partnerships program have also been instrumental in keeping us all safe and warm through the long Minnesota winter. In addition, we have been staggered by the outpouring of financial support we have received from orchestras all across North America in response to ICSOM’s Call to Action on our behalf. These funds are being monitored carefully, and used responsibly and sparingly.
Finally, we thank every individual musician we have heard from during this immensely sad season. The anti-union, anti-music current that is sweeping through our industry is strong, but it cannot begin to match the collective strength of the community of musicians. Your words of support and encouragement mean the world to us, and we know that you’re counting on us to remain strong. We will not let you down.
Sam Bergman is a violist with the Minnesota Orchestra and serves on its members’ committee. He is a former editor of Senza Sordino.