Op Ed: Open the books, end the lockout

Published in the Star Tribune, November 28, 2012 | by TIM ZAVADIL, BURT HARA, DOUG WRIGHT, TONY ROSS and CATHY SCHUBILSKE

Musicians need full access to the books before making a counteroffer.

“Management should provide the complete independent financial analysis that the musicians seek,” stated the Star Tribune Editorial Board on Oct. 5, regarding the lockout of the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (“A change in key at Minnesota Orchestra“). “The ‘trust, but verify’ approach works in diplomacy; it should work here.”

On Oct. 27, the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor R.T. Rybak made a similar call for financial transparency by unanimously passing a resolution stating that the city “encourages that measures be taken to ensure that both the Minnesota Orchestra and its musicians have a common understanding of existing financial information and future projections.”

The Star Tribune reports (“Orchestra walked thin line on finances,” Nov. 26) that management chose to delay the incurring of deficits so as not to affect fundraising and state bonding requests, according to minutes from the orchestra board meetings. In fact, the minutes reveal that members of the board hired a public relations firm that helped determine “what size of deficit to report publicly …”

This confirms why we musicians contend that we cannot and should not make a financial counteroffer without a full, joint, independent analysis of the orchestra’s finances.

No one is more vested in the financial health and future of this orchestra than the musicians. Unfortunately, the musicians have neither the access to financial data needed to make a more detailed offer nor the transparency that the Star Tribune and the city have urged management to provide.

Our community has raised many questions. In an open letter on MinnPost.com, major donors Cy and Paula DeCosse, featured by orchestra management in fundraising materials, ask why management decided to undertake a massive $50 million lobby renovation at Orchestra Hall when the finances were so dire.

More importantly, the DeCosses observe, “The strategic plan on the orchestra’s website contains a new mission statement. In contrast to the old mission statement, this one does not even mention the orchestra. Why was the mission statement changed?”

We as musicians wonder the same.

The musicians do not understand why it would be effective to shrink the orchestra at a time when we have achieved global acclaim. With the sixth-largest endowment, thanks to our generous community, the orchestra would have its annual budget slashed to a level that would diminish its ranking to 15th.

The musicians refuse to accept that the “greatest orchestra in the world,” as Alex Ross of the New Yorker wrote in 2010, should become a minor-league player when Minneapolis as a city and Minnesota as a state strive to be world-class at every turn.

Even as the Minnesota Orchestral Association has proposed extreme and unprecedented cuts, other leading orchestras have supported and rewarded their musicians through constructive contract negotiations. The Chicago, Cleveland and National orchestras have advanced reasonable, forward-thinking contract solutions with modest upward wage adjustments.

Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson, while testifying before the Legislature in 2010 regarding funding for a new lobby for Orchestra Hall, stated: “On the financial front, we have announced three balanced budgets in a row.” He went on to say that the orchestra is one of the “finest in the world.”

Three former music directors have stated that the current offer will “swiftly destroy” our artistic legacy and world-class status.

In light of news that management has not been transparent about its finances, and because management has not shared any new financial data with the musicians since the lockout began, the musicians continue to urge the board and management to open all of the books for outside analysis.

As Music Director Osmo Vänskä states, the lockout needs to end. This is also the position the City Council and mayor stated in their resolution, saying that the city “discourages ‘lockout’ as a means to resolve the existing labor dispute.”

The musicians agree. We ask the board to end the lockout. While we are disappointed that our previous requests to meet with the board to discuss the future of the Minnesota Orchestra have been refused, we renew our commitment to working with the entire board in good faith to preserve our world-class orchestra.

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Tim Zavadil, Burt Hara, Doug Wright, Tony Ross and Cathy Schubilske are musician members of the Minnesota Orchestra negotiating committee.

Agora or Temple? by George Slade

Our good friend and writer George Slade has produced another timely piece for us. Please enjoy his musings and his prose on this Black Friday!

A lobby used to be a transitional space, an overgrown mud-room, an air-lock you traverse expeditiously to access the main event. You check your coat, use the rest room, get a quick drink of water, linger only long enough to reconnoiter with a date, and head for the hall proper. A ticket-taker approves your entry and beseeches you to enjoy the performance. <continue reading>

For a world-class orchestra, we must find our voice

Our community should be able to generate the revenue required to sustain quality. We’re problem-solvers, after all.

By Peter Hutchinson. Originally printed in the Star Tribune on November 4th, 2012.

I was there the night they came to play. They’ve been called the best in the world. And they showed us why. There they all were — Manny, Burt, Tony, Stan and all the rest. They were as good as they have ever been. Stan led the gang in his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house full of supportive fans. Tony was leadoff, with Stan calling the plays. We weren’t sure what we would get from Tony, what with him being both player and negotiator. We needn’t have worried. Tony hit a home run that sent the fans into a frenzy. That level of play continued all night. By the time it was over, we all knew the difference between good enough and world-class — and we wanted world-class.

And then the players went back to being locked out.

This wasn’t any team. And this wasn’t a game. This was our own Minnesota Orchestra. To be more specific, this was the musicians of the orchestra bringing us a concert in lieu of the regularly scheduled opening night. The musicians and the orchestra board are in a fight. The musicians are locked out. The season has been cut short. Thankfully, the musicians still have their instruments and their passion for music. Thankfully, they are professionals who practice and keep themselves in shape. Thankfully they are still world-class.

The board says that we cannot afford the orchestra we have. We need a new model that costs less. They say we can still be world-class by either paying these musicians less or hiring replacements who cost less from the large pool of talent coming out of our music schools. The musicians say that won’t work. Sure, there are plenty of musicians graduating from music schools, they say, and many are good enough. But only a few are world-class. To attract and keep them requires going the extra mile. Seems kind of like baseball or football. There are literally millions of kids playing these sports and thousands doing so in college, but only a few are world-class, and they get paid — well.

But the orchestra is not the Vikings or the Twins. It doesn’t have a revenue model that works (nor an exemption from the antitrust laws that gives sports teams the power to limit competition). The revenue model it has been using is draining its endowment, putting it on a path to annihilation. That can’t and won’t continue. The status quo is over. The real question is by what will it be replaced?

As reported in these pages, the board’s major focus seems to be on costs. There no doubt will be changes in the approach to costs, and the players will have to be part of that. But we don’t want an orchestra that is only good enough and cheap. We want world-class. To stay world-class, we must also focus on revenue — on the selection and quality of the music, on its presentation and distribution, on its connection with audiences, on marketing and sales, and on philanthropy. We are neither a poor nor a cheap place. We are willing to pay for quality. Our community should be able to generate the revenue required to sustain world-class quality. Other communities have, including Cleveland, Cincinnati, Boston and Chicago.

To do that here, we also need to focus on the connection between this world-class institution and our community. We are a community filled with passionate, hardworking, creative people who have consistently found ways over, around and through tough challenges. Those people were at that concert the other night. They are hurt by the lockout and by what it means about the breakdown among the board, management and the musicians. They are equally hurt by what it means about the problem-solving reputation of our community. The board and musicians are at an impasse. There may be two sides in this dispute, but we are one community. Our community has not yet found its voice or its way to influence the outcome. I believe it must. I believe it will. It always has.


Peter Hutchinson is a former president of the Bush Foundation, commissioner of finance for Minnesota and superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools. He was the 2006 Independence Party candidate for governor.