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The Minnesota Orchestra's Labor Dispute Is Over. What's Next?

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After 15 months of acrimony, the longest labor dispute at a major American symphony orchestra has ended. The Minnesota Orchestra and its musicians reached an agreement last night and players will return to work on February 1. While all sides are relieved, most admit the hard work of rebuilding some seriously damaged bridges is just about to begin.

Everyone says they are looking forward to setting aside the bitterness of the last 15 months and getting back to work — but when he emerged from last night's vote, musician negotiator Tim Zavadil couldn't help but mention how long they had been out of work.

"The musicians will look forward to going home at Orchestra Hall after a lock-out that will have lasted 488 days," he said.

It took almost five hours for the musicians to vote on the settlement proposal. Many had been forced to take jobs far afield to make ends meet, and votes came in from the Canary Islands, Japan and around South America. They voted to take a pay cut of more than 10 percent over the next three years, and pay more for healthcare, amounting to a 15 percent concession in all. That's much less than the 35 percent management originally proposed. But there is also what management negotiator Doug Kelley called a revolutionary idea for the orchestra world.

"We have a revenue sharing agreement," he says. "If the endowment performs quite well over the next three years we are prepared to share that with the musicians, and I believe that is one of the first provisions for revenue sharing at an orchestra across the United States of America."

But a lot of questions remain to be answered, including who will lead the orchestra. Board Chair Jon Campbell is out, but President and CEO Michael Henson remains. Both drew criticism for their hard-line stance during negotiations. Of far more concern to musicians and fans is the huge hole left by the resignation of the ensemble's music director, Osmo Vänskä, who raised Minnesota's profile on the world stage.

Filling the music director's job is vital, says Bill Eddins. He's a former associate conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra who now is music director of Canada's Edmonton Symphony. He points to the way Detroit Symphony conductor Leonard Slatkin helped rebuild bridges after a six-month strike there.

"The Minnesota Orchestra desperately needs someone like that, not only from a PR point of view, but from an artistic point of view, just to settle the ship after these incredible storms," he says.

The lockout wasn't only hard on the players. Fans also truly missed the music. Meanwhile, orchestra staff is engaged in a whirlwind of activity, not just setting up opening concerts, but trying to resurrect and sell an entire subscription season beginning in a matter of weeks.

Copyright 2014 Minnesota Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.mpr.org/.

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