New Details In The SPCO Negotiations

In the wake of Monday’s post about the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) negotiations, additional details regarding management’s initial offer have surfaced by way of a comment thread initiated by a SPCO musician negotiating committee member. According to that information, the SPCO was looking for concessions beyond reductions in weeks.

The musician representative, SPCO violinist Leslie Shank, stated management’s intent is to produce a contract that secures $1.5 million in reductions from musician related expenses and to date, they have not moved from that figure during bargaining sessions. This corresponds with details reported in the 6/11/2012 Minneapolis Star Tribune article which quotes SPCO board chair and interim president, Dobson West, saying that although the board anticipates presenting a revised proposal, the zero-sum goal remains unchanged.

In addition to the proposed cuts in weeks and compensation, Shank maintains that the SPCO was looking for a number of non monetary concessions, some of which were the root of angst in the protracted Detroit Symphony labor dispute.

  • Removing tenure.
  • Securing the authority to dismiss a musician for any reason without a peer review process.
  • Instituting a $500 fine for being late to rehearsals.
  • Securing the authority to discipline musicians for multiple dress code violations.

The final point is one that is not unusual at most professional orchestras but perhaps unsurprisingly, the real hot button issues center on tenure and dismissal.

Also worth noting in Shank’s comments is the claim that the details surrounding management’s initial offer were leaked as a result of insecure communication methods.

The SPCO management has been putting out negotiations updates to the board and musicians, not password protected. This was leaked to the Star-Trib, and that was their source for most of the information in [the article from 6/11/212].

I contacted the SPCO for a formal response but at the time this article was published, they have yet to reply. When and/or if they do, this article will be updated to incorporate any additional information.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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0 thoughts on “New Details In The SPCO Negotiations”

      • While I can’t speak for MO, the SPCO is known for it’s collaborative model, and therefore, the notion of discussing a blackout was not part of that thinking. I think to have a truly collaborate model, there needs to be trust. It is hard to imagine why our management didn’t have a password for their information website, and hard to imagine why anyone would want to leak it to the press.

  1. It’s good to hear from Leslie. Even though I know the big issue is compensation, I wonder about the need to discipline professionals on dress code violations and late to rehearsals.
    Why can’t people show up on time and correctly dressed? It wouldn’t be tolerated at a restaurant. My brother has fired waitstaff on the spot for wearing a dirty shirt.

    • Mary;

      You are completely missing the point on this. The only issue is money and compensation. I think that it has nothing to do with orchestra members actually showing up late or not properly dressed for concerts. You are automatically assuming that since these are now inserted into the proposed contract that the management wants it because there must have been problems in the past relating to these issues. These are diversionary negotiating tactics now being used by orchestra managements all over the country.

      What happens is that the management floods the proposed contract with so many odious and insulting components to the musicians that they (management) then have more negotiating options to remove so that they can keep the real thing they (management) are after and that is major pay cuts. These insulting components give the management a chance to pull back on those because they know that the musicians will be very offended and threatened by their insertion into the possible contract. They think that the musicians will be glad to take the pay cut to save tenure, and prevent other penalties such as dress code fines (which would rarely ever be used in any professional orchestra).

      Do not be fooled. My belief is that these have nothing to do with actual problems within the organization, but they do have everything to do with the real goal which is to get the musicians to agree to deep pay cuts.

      • This is an interesting PR approach. Now the public thinks there is a problem with musicians not showing up on time and looking shabby. In my experience any behaviors like this are dealt with quickly under rules that are already a part of the CBA.
        Furthermore,in an orchestra like the SPCO there is a level of professionalism and pride that prevents issues like these from becoming chronic problems; usually peer pressure is used before it escalates to become a big deal.

        But now in the mind of the public it must be a problem. (“these guys are makin’ all this money and they can’t even show up on time?”) A classic case of misdirection to take the focus off the real issues. I suspect that we will be seeing more of this in the months to come….

  2. Save Our SPCO announced today that they have formed a committee to explore the feasibility of forming a new orchestra if the negotiations break down and the season is canceled entirely. Two MN lawmakers have joined the exploratory committee. For details from today’s press conference, visit the blog:, or

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