St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Musicians Reject Contract, Lockout Continues

Updated: 11/01/2012 10:07 AM KSTP.com By: Leslie Dyste

Despite being locked out over a labor dispute since October 21, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians unanimously voted to reject the management's contract offer Wednesday.

The musicians are standing firm in their belief that if they accepted management's offer, it would simply ruin the orchestra. They say the proposal would prevent them from performing at the level audiences expect and deserve.

According to Lynn Erickson, an SPCO trumpet player and a member of the musicians' negotiating committee, "I expected it. I think the musicians didn't support the management's proposal."

The musicians say the contract would allow management to terminate musicians at any time with no recourse, drastically reduce their salary and benefits, and even more drastically lower the guaranteed salary of musicians yet to join the orchestra.

In fact, they believe the four-year contract proposal, as it stands, means a 33 percent pay cut--not 14 percent as management claims.

Erickson says the orchestra members are united, despite the fact there is widespread concern about how long they'll be able to hold out. Since the lock out began, their pay has ended. "I think people have great concerns about finances. How are we going to weather the finances when you are not getting a paycheck? It makes it really really difficult," she said.

The musicians also don't want to reduce the number of SPCO players from 34 to 28. They say management wants to replace older players with younger, cheaper ones. "I think it's about artistic control. We want to be able to control the size of the orchestra," Erickson said.

Orchestra management, though, says unless it cuts about $1.5 million from its budget, they'll be no orchestra at all. Dobson West, the SPCO president, explained, "We were very disappointed with their (the musicians') response. They did not come back with a counter proposal. They didn't even comment on ours. And we need to bring our fixed expenses in line with our sustainable revenues."

Because both the SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra are locked out, more than two dozen community orchestras--including the Wayzata Symphony--are hoping they might get a boost from the silence. The Wayzata Symphony is made up of 65 amateur, unpaid musicians--but admission is free. According to Marlene Pauley, the Wayzata Symphony's music director, "You'll see edge-of-seat playing when you come. These are musicians who absolutely want to be there."

Principal bassoonist and Wayzata Symphony board president Paul Humiston added, "There are people who are very passionate about playing but who make their living doing something else."

The SPCO musicians and management plan to return to the negotiating table in early November. More performance cancelation announcements are expected soon.

Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com