The MOA Tries to Explain Itself Further to the City of Minneapolis

Let me catch up on something quickly.

As you may recall, the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) has found itself in a bit of hot water with the city of Minneapolis (covered in this earlier blog post).  The reasons have been many, but in short they relate to the 15-month lockout of the musicians, which has led to the cancellation of a year and a half of programming and economic chaos for downtown businesses.  But more than that, there’s a clear sense that the MOA has not been forthright in its financial dealings with the city.   The city of Minneapolis now holds the lease for Orchestra Hall, and in that authority it demanded the MOA provide an accounting of its finances and demonstrated proof that it was living up to its obligations under the lease agreement.

The MOA responded with a report submitted on December 1 that was widely derided.  To be brief, it was incredibly vague, didn’t address the city’s concerns, and was appallingly mendacious.

The city was understandably furious and immediately demanded a fuller reckoning.  The MOA did so on December 20.

If anything, this report was worse.

It’s a bit late in the game, but I cannot allow this response to go unchallenged.

* * *

“The Lease recognizes the expertise and experience MOA has in operating artistic programs and performances and provides broad discretion to MOA to maintain and operate the Hall….”

Essentially you’re telling the city that since it trusted you a few years ago when you first put this lease agreement together, it should trust you now.

Well, they may have trusted your expertise and experience before, but after seeing what you’ve done over the last year and a half they certainly don’t trust you now.  Nor should they.  Your “expertise” has led to the closure of the Hall, the cancellation of months’ worth of concerts, derision from the national media, disdain from arts organizations across the country and a revolt by the local community.  Your actions made scores of “Worst of 2013” lists as the year ran down.  Even board members of other orchestras around the country are criticizing you.

I ask in seriousness… if you were outside this situation looking in, would you trust the expertise of the people running the Hall under these circumstances?

And, this misses the whole point of why the city is asking for this report.  As time has gone by, conditions have changed, they’ve seen how you’ve behaved and they’ve lost confidence in you.  “But… you used to trust us!” is an embarrassing response in this situation.

“In addition, the Lease acknowledges that demand and use of the Hall is likely to vary over time and by season….”

This is painfully embarrassing to read.  Of course the city doesn’t expect arts events 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Of course it understands there are natural ebbs and flows in programming, and in types of programming.

But no one—no one—envisioned you would shut down the organization for 15 months in a fit of pique.

This isn’t some natural cycle of ups and downs, it is a deliberate, artificially created black hole of programming, propagated simply to starve the musicians into accepting a punitive labor contract.  You started this lockout, and you could end it today.

That is what’s fueling the city’s actions—it is a natural consequence to your intransigence.

“We fully informed the City of the need to reduce labor costs by several million dollars, in addition to the reductions that had already occurred in the MOA’s cost structure and for non-union personnel.”

This gets to the heart of the city’s beef with you.  They—along with many outside observers—have said flat out that you did not fully inform the city of your plans.  Particularly not its specifics.  In its assessment of your finances, the city does reference that “the MOA hopes to achieve cost savings through a re-negotiation of the musicians’ contract,” but they also wrote “[T]here is no guarantee that all these assumptions will be achieved and thus there is a risk that the operations will not be consistently self-sufficient.”  That said, they also concluded “MOA has a large combined endowment that will be available to help manage any deficits.”

For what it’s worth, the “Exhibit A” you provide to “prove” the city knew about your intentions is laughable.  So… placing a lower number in the salaries line of a budget proves you’ll actually achieve those savings?  How?  By what mechanism… simply by having the musicians acquiesce to your demands?  (This would, however, explain why you maintain the lockout… you literally have no fallback position since the musicians refused to acquiesce.)

So to recap, the city knew you hoped to achieve some savings, but didn’t know if they would indeed happen, and had no indication as to how you would achieve them.  The city concluded that your endowment would be sufficient to keep you afloat if the savings didn’t materialize.

From all that, there is no indication that the city knew you were going to lock out the musicians for 15 months and preemptively cancel all arts programming.

“As you are well aware, the MOA’s long-term objective to bring labor costs in line with revenues from ticket sales, donations and sustainable endowment draws has been met with extraordinary resistance in the labor negotiations between MOA and the Twin Cities Musicians Union….”

Yes, how could anyone imagine that demanding an immediate, permanent 40% pay cut, elimination of seniority pay, and 200 changes to the labor agreement could possibly lead to protracted resistance?

For what it’s worth, I was appalled and it wasn’t even my salary we were dealing with.

But another point.  You keep referring to your adversary as “the union.”  I assume this comes from a sense that all unions are inherently bad, and the desire to dehumanize your negotiation partners by referring to them as a faceless, and vaguely sinister collective.  But this isn’t the case.  Your negotiating partners isn’t some faceless union—it’s your musicians.   It is your musicians who are reacting against your ridiculous proposal, and your musicians that are fighting to protect their own livelihoods.  More importantly, it is your musicians that are calling the shots, not some abstract union out there.

This isn’t just a minor point of semantics—I think your repeated use of “the union” to describe your negotiating partners, and using the term as a pejorative, reveals much about your mindset, values and priorities.

“The labor dispute will not be a permanent situation and we remain confident that resolution with the Union will be accomplished in due time.”

Really?  Board Chair Jon Campbell remarked to the New York Times that he was in no hurry to resume negotiations.  So how do you hope to reach an agreement?

“Resolution, however, is beyond the unilateral control of the MOA.”

Well, yes.  But let me remind you that you unilaterally locked out the musicians and cancelled a season and a half’s worth of programming, which has led to current problems with the city of Minneapolis.  If you were to end the lockout today, and resume programming, you would be fulfilling your part of the agreement with the city, thereby eliminating the need to fill out reports or defend yourself.  You have the power to do that right now… so why don’t you?  It would save a lot of people a lot of hassle.

“… [it] is continuing to do everything within its power, other than forfeiting the viability of its long-term future, to resolve a contract with the Union.”

Again, “…with the musicians.”

But to the bigger point… this is laughable.  Apparently, a tiny core of the MOA’s leadership has come up with a plan that envisions there is one way—and only one way—to secure the organization’s future.  It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, what anyone else proposes, or how often reality intervenes—there is only one way to save the Orchestra.  And it’s worth jettisoning anything and everything to follow that one plan.  Even if everything that this single plan was based on has changed, and the plan itself is consequently defunct.

Richard Davis used nearly those exact words when saying it was worth losing a grand opening of Orchestra Hall, the Carnegie Hall performances, or even the loss of Music Director Osmo Vänskä.

I’ve dealt with this many times in my blog.  There are many, many other ways to achieve your ultimate objective.  There are many, many resources that you can draw on, and perspectives to use.

So why on earth are you still beholden to this single plan, cooked up by a small cadre of people, that is no longer viable, and has caused such an organizational catastrophe?

“[the board members] donate their time and resources because of their personal love and support for the Minnesota Orchestra.  Moreover, the board members owe a fiduciary responsibility…”

This gets trotted out all the time.  Yes, they have a fiduciary responsibility, but they have other ones as well.  They have the responsibility to safeguard the artistic mission of the Minnesota Orchestra.  They have a responsibility for excellent governance of the Minnesota Orchestra.  They have a responsibility to lead the Minnesota Orchestra in an ethical manner.

And right now I’ve got grave concerns for its actions in all these areas.

So do others—that’s why the city of Minneapolis is coming after you.

But as a side note, you always talk in glowing terms about your board members.  That is fair and appropriate to do so.

When do you ever speak of your musicians in a similar manner?

“We have been scheduling performances…”

Well, no.  You’ve been cancelling them.  That’s the root of your problems with the city.  And you deliberately chose to cancel them.  Unilaterally, and by your own choice.  That’s also at the root of your problems with the city.

“We also expect the schedule will continue to evolve and change as circumstances require….”

Again, you unilaterally are cancelling the performances.  The only step necessary to stop the schedule from “evolving” is for you to stop cancelling concerts.

“MOA continues to seek and confirm engagements for additional music performances….”

I assume you’re finding that confirming engagements with musical groups is difficult when you engage in a hostile lockout of your own musicians.  Again, if you were to stop engaging in this self-destructive behavior, I imagine the task would become much easier.

But another question.  How are these outside gigs being managed?  Significantly, the person in charge of Pops and rentals has left the organization.

“MOA also has many events scheduled with corporate, civic, and educational groups in the Hall.  These often include music…”

This is also painful to read.  Having a band play at a wedding reception held in the lobby does not fulfill the mission of the Minnesota Orchestra.  Playing a CD as “entry music” while attendees at a corporate training workshop gather and take their seats does not fulfill the bargain with the city of Minneapolis.

 “Although the current uncertainty in planning events for the Hall is unfortunate….”

It is unfortunate, yes.  But it is a situation created and controlled entirely by you. Again, that is why the city of Minneapolis is irritated.

“MOA gas provided high quality musical performances during the few months the Hall has been operation and is committed to continuing to do so for the duration of the labor dispute.”

How, exactly, do you define “high quality?”  This has been an ongoing area of concern and confusion.  Clearly, in your assessment you don’t give priority to national reviews, Grammy nominations, Carnegie Hall appearances or residencies as prestigious foreign festivals.  Board members such as Nicky Carpenter and Richard Davis have publicly written those off.  And in your strategic plan, you allude to high quality without ever defining it.  So… what is your criteria?


Your submitted budget is, as you imply, is so hypothetical that it doesn’t deserve comment.  Moreover, the highly questionable tactics you’ve used to prepare it and promote it to the public have been widely criticized by people around the country.

“In one of our recent meetings with your staff, a CPED representative said a lockout was within MOA’s control, since it has large endowments and can settle with the Union at any time by meeting their demands.  Of course that is a fallacy.”

Oh boy.  I wasn’t in this meeting, so I can’t speak to what the representative did or did not say.  But I have a hard time believing he told you simply to capitulate to “the union’s” demands.  First, the musicians didn’t make demands of you and walk out when you refused to act—you made demands of them.  That’s the whole point here.  You have been crying loudly for months that the musicians haven’t made a legitimate counteroffer (falsely, I might add).   So which is it… are you bravely holding out against unreasonable musician demands that will wreck the Orchestra, or are they refusing to make any demands?

And you are completely misrepresenting the activities of the last few months.  As you admit, there was a proposal on the table negotiated by your hand-chosen mediator that would allow an end to the lockout while permanent negotiations continued.  The musicians agreed to this proposal.  Foundations from across the state worked to find bridge money to offset expenses while a new contract was negotiated.  But you rejected it because you would, in your own words, “lose leverage.”

I don’t know how to make this any clearer—this lockout is not beyond your control.  There was an agreement to end it, and additional outside resources provided to you to make it happen.  But you didn’t want to do so.  The lockout is 100% in your control.

“In labor disputes, ‘beyond your control” does not mean either side has control simply by agreeing to any demand, wither sustainable or not.”

The irony is thick here.  Again and again you’ve argued that literally the only way to save the organization is to have the musicians accept significant pay cuts, totaling $5 million.  You’ve refused to budge from this pre-determined number.  You’ve implied earlier in this report that that is the only way the organization can survive is if the musicians completely agree to your demands.

So apparently this statement is true for you but not the musicians?

“Settlement must be on terms that meet reasonable economic parameters.”

The fact that you don’t like the parameters does not mean they are objectively unreasonable.

“Let me conclude by again reaffirming our willingness to negotiate at any time with the Union.”

You have shown no willingness to negotiate with the musicians and have rebuffed every attempt to bridge your two sides.  Let me ask you more directly—what is your plan for engaging them?  What is your framework for negotiations?  What to you wish to negotiate?  When?  Who will be in the room?

This isn’t snark, but an honest question… how do you hope to resolve this situation?

Do you even want to?





4 thoughts on “The MOA Tries to Explain Itself Further to the City of Minneapolis

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