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Minnesota Orchestra cancels concerts through year's end

The Minnesota Orchestra recently announced that it has cancelled all concerts through the end of the year. The move may indicate that negotiations between orchestra management and musicians are at an impasse.

Orchestra management seeks to cut $5 million from labor expenses -- about 33 percent of current costs. The reduction would require a pay cut for substitute and extra musicians, as well as an orchestra staffed in the mid-80s. Currently, 95 positions are contracted.

The net impact to the orchestra is a wash because it won't have to pay rent at the Convention Center or musician salaries and benefits. That may give it more leverage over musicians, who are without salaries or benefits as the holidays approach.

Management has said it will not resume negotiations until the musicians' union makes a formal counterproposal. The union contends that it has made three proposals: a request for an independent analysis of orchestra finances; continuing to play under current salaries while negotiations continue; and binding arbitration -- in which an arbitrator chooses between two proposals.

Arbitration can be a sensitive issue in employment disputes. Many employers, in an effort to reduce the risk of litigation, include an arbitration clause in employment agreements and contracts. Employees who voluntarily sign such agreements essential agree to arbitration as a forum, in the event of labor disputes with their employer down the road.

However, several recent employment cases have inquired whether an arbitration clause is procedural or substantive. The distinction carries great significance: whereas procedural rights can be waived by contract, substantive matters usually cannot. For example, it may be unlawful for a contractual arbitration clause to prevent employees from bringing class actions alleging a pattern or practice of discrimination at a company. Otherwise, employers could use contracts to usurp employee protections provided under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Minnesota Orchestra dispute intensifies, with 21 more concerts canceled," Graydon Royce, Nov. 8, 2012

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