“New Financial Realities”- Letter to the Board from the Musicians of the SPCO Negotiating Committee

Dear Members of the Board of Directors of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Society,

We, the Musicians of the SPCO, are disheartened at the current status of the negotiations, and we share your urgent desire to resume concerts for the community. We are well aware of the financial challenges of the organization. However, we feel there is a more nuanced financial picture than the one that the Management has painted, and there is more than one solution to the crisis.

We have recalculated the cost of our latest proposal, based on all the financial information the Management has provided us and the new harsh reality of the 10 week lockout. As you know, the Management has never budged from their demand that $1.5 million be cut from the Orchestra’s budget. In the spreadsheet that is attached, you will see that a large part of the present budget for the orchestra is for replacement and extra player costs. We discussed this issue in the last negotiation meeting on November 8, and Musicians pointed out that programming within a budget could lead to significant savings in this area. An increase in Baroque programming or a focus on Haydn Symphonies, for instance, could maximize the use of the current roster and save on the use of extras without compromising our artistic standards. If you find yourself wondering why the SPCO spent $1 million dollars on extra and replacement musicians last season, a year in which the Management projected a $1 million deficit and planned t Read More


The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Society has falsely told the public that its proposal requires only a 15% reduction in the musicians’ guaranteed compensation.

SPCO musicians are paid a minimum guaranteed salary, and also receive a separate sum for their leadership roles and special instrumental skills. Both sums are guaranteed under the existing Union contract.

SPCO musicians are currently being paid a minimum guaranteed base salary of $78,223. The management proposal attempts to reduce this amount to $50,000. That reduction of $28,223 is a 36% cut in the minimum annual salary.

The second source of income, to address each musician’s special skills and talents, is called “overscale.” Although the individual contracts for “overscale” are confidential, SPCO figures reveal that the average overscale per musician is $15,058. Management’s proposal reduces the guaranteed income for overscale to $12,500, a 16% reduction from the average overscale in the prior orchestra season, and management’s proposal provides no guarantee of overscale for new hires.

In summary, the average guaranteed pay for an SPCO musicians is currently $93,280, and management’s last proposal intends to cut this to $62,500, a total reduction of $30,780 which amounts to a 33% overall reduction. The constant PR statement by management that its artistic and financial proposal is only a 15% reduction is a shell game calculation falsely minimizing the devastating impac Read More

The Commoditization of Symphony Orchestra Musicians

The recent headlines are horrifying.   Musicians in top orchestras have been asked to take massive cuts in pay and benefits.  Managers are slashing weeks and demanding reductions in the number of musicians – in some cases, by putting tenured players out on the street.  Longstanding work rules are being gutted for reasons that have nothing to do with finances.  It is a full-fledged assault on protections for musicians that took decades to achieve.
Perhaps most disturbing, however, is the response from some orchestra managers and board chairs to the argument that players, faced with these draconian measures, will pack up and leave.  The message is simple and blunt:  we don’t care.  Go ahead and leave.  After all, you’re totally replaceable; we’ll just hire one of those fantastic kids coming out the conservatories.
This message is being delivered with stunning candor.  The chairman of one major orchestra demanding huge cuts noted the “quite remarkable” number of music-school graduates, characterizing it as “a large supply.”  Another manager acknowledged a “risk” that his players would “find their way to another place” if forced to accept management’s demands, but shrugged it off:  “those who can leave will.”  Yet another board chairman told one departing principal that he wouldn’t care unless nine or ten players left – and then, only because it might be “bad PR.”  (And of course, who can forget the manager who th Read More

Musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra call Management’s latest contract proposal “unrealistic”

St Paul, Minnesota (January 25, 2013 ) –  At a legislative hearing earlier this week, the Musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra announced their latest contract offer, which includes more than $4.6 million from the lockout in savings and concessions through 2016.

SPCO Management is still insisting on a two-tier salary level structure, which will make it impossible to recruit and retain world-class musicians. Management’s proposal also calls for base pay salary cuts over the next three years: 33% (2013-14), 31% (2015) and 29 % (2016). A proposal that is “unrealistic,” according to Carole Mason-Smith, co-chair of the SPCO Musicians Negotiating Committee.

Smith said the Musicians have offered to cut 20% of base pay and 15% of individual over-scale during the balance of the 2012-13 and entire 2013-14 season

“We are extremely disappointed that Management continues to demonstrate such an unwillingness to move any closer to a solution,” said Mason-Smith. “Management’s latest counter-proposal is unrealistic, and they continue to mislead the public with claims that the stalemate rests in our hands.”

Management’s last proposal remains unchanged from Sept 7, 2012.

The Musicians of the SPCO have been locked out for 95 days. Their contract expired September 30, 2012. Management imposed the lockout on October 21, 2012 following three weeks where the Musicians continued to “play and talk.”

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Musicians offer fourth proposal

Musicians of SPCO Fear Lockout will continue for weeks due to Management’s Reluctance to compromise

Saint Paul, Minnesota ( January 30, 2013 ) – The Musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) said today that they fear the 101-day old lockout will likely drag on for weeks because of Management’s unwillingness to compromise, its continued refusal to change its draconian salary offers and its reluctance to even respond to the Musicians’ concessionary proposals.

In an attempt to resolve the dispute, Carole Mason Smith, a bassoonist with the SPCO for more than 30 years and co-chair of the Negotiating Committee, said the Musicians have agreed to numerous concessions, including cutting their salaries and reducing the number of musicians (from 34 to 28).

Mason Smith said the Musicians’ latest proposal, presented to Management on January 22, 2013, would save the SPCO $3.6 million through 2016. In addition, Management will have saved over $1 million if the lockout ends by February 10, 2013. Despite the dramatic savings, Management has yet to respond to the offer.

“The refusal of Management to compromise on any major economic issues is what has prevented the end of the lockout and our return to performing great music for our audiences,” said Mason Smith who added that Management has barely changed the financial terms of its offer since September 7, 2012.

In their latest proposal, Mason Smith said the Musician Read More