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Minnesota by the numbers

1 Robert Levine

In an act of remarkable generosity, Drew McManus not only obtained the actual proposal made to the Minnesota Orchestra by management but posted it on his Adaptistration website. I know he’s planning on some analysis, but it was too tempting a document for me to resist reading and writing about any longer. So here are my initial impressions.

First off, as interesting as the changes proposed are what’s left alone. Broad subject areas are virtually untouched; tenure, discipline and auditions are the most important one. We’ve seen some radical proposals in the tenure area in a few proposals over the past two years, especially in Detroit and St. Paul (although the recent SPCO proposal doesn’t include them, as I understand matters.) Clearly the folks driving this particular train don’t much care about those issues, or possibly have concluded that going after those would make what they really want to achieve even harder. A miscalculation, if so; nothing could make the cuts they want to achieve harder to get than is already the case.

For the guts of the proposal is in the economics. There are three key proposals. The first is to drop base pay radically. The second is to cut the cost of benefits – particularly health insurance, of course – and to put the burden for future increases onto the musicians. And the third is to even more radically cut pay for subs and extras than for full-time musicians.

Base weekly salary was originally negotiated to be $2,177 but was renegotiated downward in 2009 to $2,144, which was the original figure for 2010-11 (although the rates changed somewhat out of synch with the actual dates of the season). Management’s proposal is to drop that to $1,498 in the first season, with a total increase of $60 over five years. Base pay, in short, would go from $111,566 to $77,896 – about a 40% cut – and would recover, by 2016-7, to a grand total of $81,016.

Management has always talked about “average pay” to the press, of course, as those figures are considerably higher and make the management even more “generous” to “the union” and its members. There are some contractually-required payments that can push the average up some, but most of the differential comes from premium payments to titled musicians that management is not obligated by the CBA to make. That doesn’t make them less necessary from an artistic point of view, of course, although I’ve always questioned how wisely most managements actually spend that additional money. But it’s not something that the union bargains for, so it really shouldn’t be part of the discussion when it comes to negotiations. In our business, the union almost never has any control over those payments, and managements are generally not eager to have the union involved. So most of the difference between base pay and “average pay” is spending that really is discretionary.

The last time base pay was at the proposed level, in nominal terms, was 1998-99. The last time base pay was at the inflation-adjusted level being proposed was sometime prior to 1985 – ICSOM’s online settlement database actually doesn’t go back far enough to give an accurate date. Suffice it to say that whatever real salary gains Minnesota Orchestra musicians have made over the past 30 years would simply be wiped away by this proposal.

Even worse, though, is what’s being proposed by management for the extras. They get a cut of 25% on top of the 43%, as their pay will now be 75% of the weekly scale, (pro-rated to a per-service rate) rather than based simply on weekly scale. The only proper word for a proposal like that, and the thinking behind it, is “obscene.” I guess they should be grateful that they won’t be asked to come in the loading dock entrance too.

Considerable damage is also proposed to benefits. Management proposes to pay a little less towards health insurance premiums than they did in 2008. Given that premiums in Minnesota rose 12% from 2008 to 2010 alone, this reduction would seem to be a major hit to the musicians on top of the salary reduction. To add insult to injury, management proposes that premium increases be shared between managements and musicians, but only up to 5% – after that, it’s all on the musicians.

There are other changes to compensation and benefits. Probably the most egregious is the complete elimination of seniority pay, which could add $3,000 and change to a long-serving member of the orchestra. There is also significant reduction in sick leave proposed.

All in all, this proposal fully deserves the “draconian” label even without considering the proposed work rule changes, which are considerable. It’s hard to imagine that the orchestra’s finances really justify such cuts, especially with the success the management has had raising money for the renovation of the hall. Perhaps it was intended as an opening gambit, but it’s hard to see how the musicians could have engaged with it without conceding the entire range of outcomes to the management end of the pool. The theory that management really never wanted a season this year because of being out of the hall does not lose plausibility by a close examination of their proposal.

I’ll try to get to the non-economic changes tomorrow. Most have to do with granting management more “flexibility” in scheduling, although to what end is impossible to tell from the proposal.

But I should address my single favorite proposed change in the entire document (“favorite,” of course, not being the same as “the one I agree with the most.”). The Minnesota Orchestra, like many orchestras, has a committee intended to address artistic issues with management; in their case, it’s called the Artistic Advisory Committee. In the existing CBA, there is language – not uncommon in such clauses – that bars the committee from discussing the performance of individual musicians. This is standard for reasons obvious to anyone who’s seen the kind of infighting that can occur (fortunately, not very often) within orchestras. The specific language in the Minnesota contract bars the committee from discussing “matters concerning individual members of the Orchestra that in any way might be injurious to them.” Management has proposed adding, after the word “Orchestra,” the phrase “and administrative staff.”

So I guess that if the person responsible for booking guest artists, or the Personnel Manager (who hires subs and extras), screws up, the AAC is not going to be the place to talk about it. Does management think that means that such screw-ups are none of the musicians’ business, or simply that such things will be forgotten if the musicians can’t bring them up to management? Of course, a management that thinks that musicians can get over taking a 43% pay cut when the management is building a glitzy new lobby is capable of believing many strange things.

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  1. Pingback by What Michael Henson Doesn’t Want You To Read | Song of the Lark
    March 4, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    [...] All in all, this proposal fully deserves the “draconian” label even without considering the proposed work rule changes, which are considerable. It’s hard to imagine that the orchestra’s finances really justify such cuts, especially with the success the management has had raising money for the renovation of the hall. Perhaps it was intended as an opening gambit, but it’s hard to see how the musicians could have engaged with it without conceding the entire range of outcomes to the management end of the pool. – Robert Levine, principal viola, Milwaukee Symphony, board member of League of American Orchestras, Polyphonic blog, 17 October 2012 [...]