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It's Not Just The NFL Refs - Professional Orchestras Get Locked Out

Locked out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra perform in a free event in a gym in Minneapolis.
Stacy Bengs
Locked out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra perform in a free event in a gym in Minneapolis.

High profile labor disputes aren't just for professional sports. While the NHL and the hockey players try talking/not talking and the NFL refs are (thankfully) back after their successful contract agreement, some major orchestras are hoping for breakthroughs.

Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are locked out in Minneapolis, an action that's wiped out the first two months of the performance season. Not far away, there's a labor dispute churning between the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and its players, although they're still performing. Then there's the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, which is having trouble agreeing with its musicians' union and canceled the first part of its season, notes the Washington Post.

As always, the most difficult issue is money.

The labor unhappiness is spreading. Last month, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians went on strike for three days, missing a Saturday night performance. They returned after accepting "modest salary increases and hefty health-care premium jumps," according to the Chicago Tribune.

That's not likely to happen soon in Minnesota. Management says musician costs are at 48% of its budget and rising and this amount can't be sustained in a struggling economy. They list the average musician's salary is about $135,000.

The Minnesota musicians have a webpage of their own, dryly pointing out while managers want to impose pay cuts of up to 50%, they're also highlighting $97 million dollars in new fundraising efforts, such as $50 million for a lobby renovation.

While they continue to face off, the Minnesota musicians say they'll play a series of free concerts for fans.

In nearby St. Paul, the smaller St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has decided to allow musicians to continue performing while contract talks go on. The Pioneer Press says management is seeking pay cuts of about 15 percent; both sides will meet again next week.

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra dispute seems to be turning on a termination clause. The union rejected a five year deal with pay increases, because the contract included a clause that would allow either side to cancel the agreement at the end of the third year. Musicians fear the contract would be voided and the bulk of their pay raises would evaporate, according to the Indianapolis Star.

The musicians may have reason to be wary - they're locked out too. They're not being paid and their health insurance has been cancelled. Symphony managers promise if they can fundraise the money they need to finance the proposed agreement, they'll drop the termination clause.

There are more cities: the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians lost a month's pay in September, before they reached a labor contract, notes the Atlanta Journal Constitution. And the AP says there are other musician disagreements in Richmond, Va., Jacksonville, Fla. and San Antonio, Texas.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Korva Coleman is a newscaster for NPR.

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