MN Orchestra offers musicians 25 percent pay cut instead of 40 to get back to work

The Minnesota Orchestra released a new proposal today that would allow the musicians to return to work on September 30 -- just in time to prevent its celebrated conductor from leaving -- while continuing contract negotiations.

The musicians, however, appear to have no interest in the new proposal, noting in a statement, "The offer management presented is the same offer the Musicians unanimously rejected a few weeks ago."

SEE ALSO: Forum tonight on the MN Orchestra as conductor's possible resignation looms

In July, George Mitchell, the former U.S. senator from Maine, agreed to step in and mediate what has been called the longest labor dispute in our orchestral history. The musicians say they'd be back to work by now if the orchestra board had accepted Mitchell's own proposal, the details of which were not available.

Under the new proposal offered by the board, the musicians would earn the same pay they did before the lockout, for a period of two months. If no agreement could be reached within that time, every musician would receive a 25 percent cut. The average salary would fall from $135,000 to $102,200 for the next two years.

Previously, the orchestra board had offered to cut salaries between 22 and 40 percent, on an individual basis. The average salary would have come out to $89,000 but it was rejected, and the musicians were locked out of Orchestral Hall on October 1, 2012.

The new proposal mirrors the old proposal in at least one aspect: both include 10 weeks of paid vacation and up to 26 weeks of paid sick leave.

The orchestra board has asked the Musicians' Bargaining Committee present the offer to the full orchestra for an anonymous vote by September 9.

Even with the new terms, the orchestra board is looking at a $2.2 million deficit over the course of the two-year contract.

"Our aim was to eliminate our deficit entirely," orchestra board chairman Jon Campbell said in a statement, "but the Board has put forward this compromise in the hopes of getting musicians back on the stage and audiences back in Orchestra Hall in time to launch a new season."

In April, Osmo Vanska sent a letter to orchestra chairman Jon Campbell and CEO Michael Henson threatening to resign as music director if the lockout wasn't settled by this fall. He pointed to upcoming recording obligations as well as performances at Carnegie Hall in November, which could be canceled because the musicians haven't practiced together in almost a year.

There was a time when Alex Ross of The New Yorker praised the orchestra for its "uncanny, wrenching power, the kind you hear once or twice a decade." But that was three years ago.

-- Email Jesse Marx at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @marxjesse

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