In May 2015, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra reached a new 3 ½-year contract agreement 21 months in advance of our current agreement’s expiration. Clearly, this negotiation was unlike any in our orchestra’s memory.
Our process couldn’t have been more different from that of the 2012-14 lockout. At his suggestion, Kevin Smith, the orchestra’s new President and CEO, and General Manager Beth Kellar-Long met informally with our negotiating committee—Tim Zavadil (chair), Sam Bergman, Kathy Kienzle, Douglas Wright, and me. From the first meeting in mid-February to the last in mid-May, only the seven of us were present at the table (though we were grateful for the full support of Local 30-73 President Brad Eggen).
Management presented a wish-list, every item of which served a rational, positive purpose that would support our mutual goals for the organization. We, in turn, were motivated to do the same. We knew the orchestra’s finances are still in recovery, but we also knew we needed to see gains in four crucial areas: salary, number of players, health insurance, and pay parity for substitute and extra musicians. Risky as it felt, we resisted padding our proposals—a typical bargaining tool.
With a little bit of back and forth, and some off-stage help from lawyers (including our attorney Bill O’Brien) on language, both sides were able to say some form of “yes” to every proposal.
We feel fortunate to have found in Kevin Smith a partner whose honesty and actions inspired trust throughout this process. As a result, both sides were able to remain both practical and idealistic, with the mission and success of the institution as our ultimate goal. We hope that this can be the model for every negotiation—one that builds mutual respect and faith in a unified vision of the future.