Minnesota Reaches A Deal

It has finally come to pass: the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) and its musicians finally reached a deal to bring the nearly 16 month work stoppage to a close. Both stakeholders released press statements to announce the agreement; the musicians’ notice focused on retaining what was characterized as a base salary that kept the orchestra in the top 10 highest paid ensembles while the MOA’s statement included a bullet list of generalized agreement terms.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-081What’s critically important to keep in mind at this juncture is that neither side has released a full, unedited copy of the agreement so any claims or stated terms are, as of now, unverified. And given the dispute’s history of vociferous tactics, it is fair to say that any reliable analysis and/or review of current claims will have to wait until the agreement is released.

Nonetheless, that isn’t stopping either stakeholder from releasing their respective talking points.


  • Top 10: the musicians appear to be transfixed on remaining in the Top 10 highest base musician salary levels among US orchestras. According to the musicians’ statement “it allows the orchestra to attract and retain the finest musicians in the country,” although there’s no mention about whether or not they meet that Top 10 standard when all of the related financial and benefit terms are factored into the overall compensation package.
  • New board leadership: musician
    spokespersons are quoted in various media sources saying they “look forward to working with new board leadership to rebuild our relationship and the trust within the organization.” At the same time, that doesn’t appear to apply to the executive leadership as the MOA has not announced that CEO Michael Henson will be leaving.


  • Reduced savings: MOA board negotiator Doug Kelley told the Star Tribune that the agreement provides $3.5 million in savings in the first of the three year term but the MOA had originally sought $5 million in labor costs. Those are very loose comparisons and there’s no mention of the three year agreement’s cumulative concessions so it is simply unknown if the MOA managed to secure the overall monetary reductions they have pushed for since initiating the lockout.
  • Reduced number of musicians: even though the MOA press release states both sides agree that 95 rostered musicians is the optimal ensemble size, the new three year agreement only requires 77 members. That figure will purportedly rise by seven over the term although there are no details as to when those are scheduled to roll out or if there is any language that allows the organization to delay filling the positions for financial reasons. Likewise, there are no details as of yet regarding which positions are permanently cut or the schedule for filling the impending seven openings.

In the end, the wisest course of action at this point is to take everything with a grain of salt. By all means, be happy that the lockout has come to an end, but wait patiently for the full details before forming conclusions and question everything. All things being equal, copies of the agreement could be available as early as next week and if nothing else, it will be interesting to see how anxious and amenable both sides are to get those documents out into the sunlight for inspection.

Update: written requests for a copy of the new collective bargaining agreement have been sent to both the MOA and the musicians, once one or both stakeholders return a copy, we can begin a meaningful analysis.

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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16 thoughts on “Minnesota Reaches A Deal”

      • The question also is whether the board would be as open as the players to bringing Mr. Vanska back. One would think that he might have burned his bridge there, yet I’m sure that he commands such popularity and prestige among Minnesota Orchestra-watchers and fans that they’d be screaming to get him back. Plus, whether he would take on the full title and duties of music director is another question. My own thought is that he could take a title like “chief conductor”, as kind of an interim figure.

    • Dear President Henson,

      Though relieved that the musicians have a new contract, many concerns about our beloved Orchestra remain. We have no guarantees that in three years the same labor conflicts and obtuse activities may not return. Many of the musicians are planning to use the Orchestra as a place holder while looking else where. In early December I wrote the letter that follows to the Executive Board, the MOA members and yourself. I maintained a mostly neutral position until the tragic resignation of Osma Vanska and the cancellation of prestigious concerts in New York and Europe. After extensive reading of web sites, periodicals and blogs, I decided that the situation was without redemption. I came to support Rep. Phyllis Kahn´s proposed bill to create community ownership of the Orchestra. I also called for the resignation of Mr. Henson based on expert analysis from different circles.

      Aside from any deficit, the greatest liability to the organization´s financial and possibly artistic survival is yourself. Many patrons have written to say that you must be sent packing and that they are not inclined to donate until you are replaced. I had planned on including the Orchestra in my will. It indicated poor judgement and ethical bankruptcy that you took a $200,000 bonus on top of an annual salary of $400,000 plus benefits in a declining economy. At the same time you were planning to cut wages from thirty to fifty percent. You resisted suggestions of returning the bonus. To me anyone in non profit arts management should never expect private executive level compensation. It makes an average American and retired public school educator like myself repelled a the idea of giving to the endowment fund, no matter how much I deeply love classical music.

      In the negotiations you said you would take the same percentage cut as the musicians. I wrote to Ms. Pappas and the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra to see if that indeed happened but am still waiting for an answer. Your moral authority is deeply compromised by the failed strategy taken by yourself and the executive board. We all paid the price for too long.

      For the well being of the Orchestra, would it not be better for all concerned if you relinquished the title of CEO and President? Who must take the major responsibility for this destructive nightmare that damaged so many lives? Esteemed music industry analyst Alex Ross in the NEW YORKER (11/25/2013) concluded: ¨The swift plunge of this magnificent orchestra looks to be one of the most flagrant cases of mismanagement in the recent history of American classical music. ¨

      I trust that Board and you will reflect deeply, taking in the final analysis the most morally courageous course.

  1. Henson still needs to go, along with any board member who supported the tragic lockout in the first place. The City of Mpls. and State of MN still should continue with the legal initiatives to create a community owned orchestra with a responsive, more representative board. Mr. HENSON should be pressed to return the $200,000 bonus if he wants to save his own job, and then the new board may want to replace him after all. Rep. Kahn´s proposed bill is to creat a new structure will eliminate the dysfunction in the future that we have seen since even before the lockout. Can anyone tell me if the staff and management also took a 15% cut?

    • Quite a few of them did a few years ago, and many staff have left. The Development Director and Facilities Manager left just last week. . . joining a long line. The “line staff” have been hit especially hard by this.

      Speaking of Mpls, the new mayor came out swinging – she has been a big supporter of the musicians. I wonder how much this had to do with things (esp. the threat of revoking Orchestra Hall’s lease).

  2. The section in this article titled Increased Pressure may contain some evidence although it may not be the verification you’re looking for.


    Drew, something you wrote awhile back stuck with me. I believe it was around the time of Osmo’s resignation. You said not to expect any significant progress in the negotiations until all three sides felt pain because at the time only two sides felt any pain (musicians and patrons). So, when the settlement was finally reached I couldn’t help but wonder if the MOA hadn’t finally begun to feel some pain. Given the lack of hard evidence we may never know for sure.

    Your insight has been a much needed source of sanity throughout this long ordeal so thank you for your perspectives.

    • Many thanks for the kind words and I agree that the MinnPost article is a too thin to rely on as a firm source. Historically, it is unusual for the reasons behind changes in long term positions to emerge; if nothing else, part of the related deal usually includes an agreement to keep mouths shut. At the same time, this entire ordeal has been far from traditional so who knows what might emerge.

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