The lovefest that is labor relations between the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) and the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (MOMO) crossed a new threshold last week with the announcement that the musicians decided to donate $250,000 in restricted use funds to the MOA for the purpose of establishing The Bellwether Fund, a new program designed to underwrite education and community programming via activity that includes previous musician run initiatives outside the auspices of the MOA.
According to a musician press release, The Bellwether Fund will be overseen by musicians but planning and implementation will shift to the MOA. Likewise, the musicians plan to dissolve the 501(c)3 nonprofit they used to generate those resources once the funds and distributed.
Labor relations have steadily improved once the executive leadership team responsible for the lockout left the institution so perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s much celebration among MOA stakeholders and a great deal of positive press in the wake of the announcement; all of which is certainly well-deserved.
This sentiment was reinforced with a comment from Minnesota Orchestra President and CEO Kevin Smith in a press statement announcing the gift.
“We are really pleased the musicians have made this decision,” said…Smith. “It represents a significant step forward for the Orchestra and recognizes that we serve our mission best when we harness the unified strength of the entire organization.”
Consequently, it certainly looks like the institution continues its trek toward normalcy but the gift has a darker side in that none of the $250,000 gift was earmarked toward alleviating the substitute musician pay disparity set into motion via the agreement that brought the lockout to an end.
I contacted MOMO spokesperson and Acting Associate Principal Bass, Kate Nettleman, to ask about the process the musicians used to reach their decision and whether or not it included discussion about using any portion of the quarter million dollars to reduce the pay disparity. I also asked whether or not any rank and file meetings that included discussion about how to use the funds included any of the current substitute musicians.
Unfortunately, Nettleman did not offer a response, which continues the musicians’ steadfast refusal to publicly address anything related to substitute disparity.
Likewise, MOA Director of Public Relations, Gwen Pappas, declined to provide any details regarding requests for information about whether or not any of the new Bellwether Fund activities will be presented as part of the musicians’ regular services or if musicians be compensated on a per event basis above and beyond their minimum CBA mandated compensation.
Since the lockout ending settlement and the subsequent 3.5 year collective bargaining agreement was ratified by musicians and the MOA, we’ve been following the issue of substitute musician pay disparity and its role in the larger Equal Pay for Equal Work topic.
The latest chapter in that examination is this donation, which has two stories to tell; one delivers a message of inspiration and cooperation between MOMO and MOA. The other solidifies the foundation of an alarming trend inside the ranks of professional orchestra musicians that systematically disenfranchises substitute musicians, without whom professional orchestras organization would be unable to function, thanks to a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell style position adopted by their colleagues/fellow union members.