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The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Contract Negotiations

The purpose of this page is to provide information and context to our community about the SPCO’s ongoing contract negotiations. This page will be periodically updated throughout this process.

Overview

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Society is in contract negotiations with its Musicians who are members of The Twin Cities Musicians Union Local 30-73. The SPCO Board of Directors has appointed a Board Task Force to work with Management on these negotiations. Management and Musicians have been negotiating in good faith since January 2024 and will continue to do so. The current contract expires on June 30, 2024; however, there is a no strike/no lockout clause in effect through September 30, 2024 should an agreement not be reached by the end of June.

Current Financial Challenges

Historic challenges are being faced across the performing arts world, and the SPCO is not immune to these challenges. We are facing a slower-than-anticipated audience return since the pandemic, a decline in subscribers, and an accelerated decline in institutional support. By the numbers, audience attendance is down 30% compared to the last full pre-pandemic season and we have seen a loss of 37% of our subscribers since the pandemic, which is consistent with our peers. In the past five years we have lost over $400,000 in annual support from corporations and foundations.  

The SPCO has a long history of financial discipline while addressing economic and industry challenges, and we have balanced our budget 27 out of the last 29 years. This discipline has allowed us to weather challenges like the pandemic. The SPCO continued full compensation for Musicians and Staff throughout that time, despite the inability to give concerts; we are not aware of any other orchestras in the United States who did the same. This discipline has also allowed us to build financial reserves, from which we are now drawing at a substantial rate. Continuing to draw from reserves is not sustainable, and the reserves will be depleted if we do not act now. We are proactively working to regain our financial health and close our structural financial gap. We are doing this by working to simultaneously increase our sustainable revenue, manage our fixed expenses and address the changing landscape of the performing arts.   

Commitment to SPCO Musicians

Despite these historic challenges, we continue to prioritize investment in the Musicians. Musicians — along with our Staff — are the heart and soul of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. We are committed to responsible and sustainable increases in compensation for Musicians during these contract negotiations. 

Additionally, working to ensure the financial health and long-term viability of the SPCO is an investment in the Musicians and the music they perform so brilliantly. 

This is a challenging moment in time for the SPCO, but as a 65-year-old organization, we have met challenging moments before. We have a responsibility to all SPCO employees, to our volunteers and to our Twin Cities community to continue to deliver on our mission for decades to come.

More Information and Context

We will use the space below to correct inaccuracies and provide context to assertions we see being made publicly by the Union.

Claim: The Musicians’ base salary is $71,440.

The guaranteed minimum compensation for a Musician is $73,440 for a 36-week contract (vs. other orchestras, many of which have a 52-week contract). Most SPCO Musicians utilize the flexibility that 36-week contract offers to participate in other paid artistic engagements including teaching, performing as guest artists with other orchestras and at festivals across the globe. 

This guaranteed minimum compensation includes a $2,000 guaranteed minimum payout from the annual Musician Appreciation Concert. This concert began in the 2018.19 season and the amount received by each Musician has been greater than the guarantee each year since starting this event. In the 2023.24 season, the amount received was $6,314 per Musician, increasing the minimum compensation level to $77,754 per Musician. Five out of the 24 Musicians currently in the SPCO earn this amount. 

Many Musicians also negotiate additional compensation on top of the base salary related to their position. The average SPCO Musician salary is $92,692, which includes the additional compensation derived from the Musician Appreciation Concert. 

All Musicians are eligible for the SPCO’s full insurance benefits package including health, dental, life, long-term disability insurance, as well as pension contributions.  

Claim: The Musicians’ base salary is the same as it was in 2009.

The 2008 Great Recession represents an economically challenging period that impacted the finances of many organizations, including the SPCO. Recovery from the recession required a reset of operational priorities in 2013, which included addressing unsustainable compensation levels first set in 2007. This reset also included a 17% reduction in administrative staff positions.

Musician compensation has steadily increased since that 2013 adjustment, including the years impacted by the pandemic (2.7% per year on average for the last decade since the 2013.14 season).  

Musician base pay is currently higher than in 2009 due to a $2,000 per Musician contractually guaranteed minimum from the Musician Appreciation Concert, which began in the 2018.19 season.  

Claim: Musician wages have been flat since 2021.

The Musicians received their full compensation and contractual increases throughout the pandemic period (through the 2021.22 season). Musicians agreed to a two-year salary freeze in the two years following the pandemic (the 2022.23 and 2023.24 seasons).

The Musicians have received increases in compensation of 2.7% per year on average in the ten years since the 2013.14 season (FY14 through FY24) compared with a Minneapolis-St. Paul inflation rate averaging 2.5% per year.* This is a cumulative 29.6% salary increase in that period compared to a cumulative Minneapolis-St. Paul inflationary increase of 27.9%.*   

*According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, December 2013-2023. 

Claim: President Jon Limbacher’s salary has increased at a higher rate than Musicians’ salaries. 

Between 2016 and 2024, the period Jon Limbacher has been President of the SPCO, his compensation increased on average 2.1% annually.

During that same time period, 2016 through 2024, the Musicians’ compensation — including compensation from the Musician Appreciation Concert — increased 3.3% on average.

Claim: The SPCO is no longer performing a full season.

The definition of a “full season” varies by orchestra and year. In an effort to reduce fixed expenses, while prioritizing Musician compensation, the SPCO announced earlier this year that there would be a reduction in the number of concert venues and concerts beginning in the 2024.25 season. Financially, only 14% of the SPCO’s revenue comes from ticket sales, and live concerts are not profitable. To address growing costs, decreases in audience and decreases in funding, the SPCO’s planned reduction included the discontinuation of concert activity at three of its twelve venues along with a decrease of 26 concerts from the 107 performed in the most recent season.   

In the 2024.25 season, the SPCO will still be performing 81 concerts in nine venues across the Twin Cities, with seats for almost 88,000 audience members. This capacity number allows room for growth in our current audience.  

The number of concerts in any given performance season has fluctuated, and there is no fixed number of concerts that constitutes a “full” season. It is important to note that SPCO Musicians are paid by the season, and scheduling fewer concerts increases their per-performance compensation.  

The SPCO Musicians have programmed a robust season ahead. It can be explored more here: 

Claim: Management proposed cutting the SPCO’s performance season in half.

At no time has the Management proposed to cut the SPCO’s season in half. The initial proposal by Management to the Board of Directors was to reduce the number of concerts to 71 concerts per season beginning in the 2024.25 season compared to the 107 concerts performed in the 2023.24 season.  

As previously stated, the final decision was a reduction of 26 concerts. The number of concerts programmed for the 2024.25 season is 81. These were difficult decisions to make, but necessary to help regain the organization’s financial health. This decision by the Board of Directors prioritized and preserved Musician compensation while reducing the fixed expenses of the organization.

Claim: With retirements and sabbaticals, the SPCO will have just four violinists next season, when a healthy number would be nine.

There are two open violin positions that have been vacant for an extended period prior to this season. 

In accordance with the SPCO’s musician-led artistic model, the Musicians recommend candidates for hire as part of the audition process. Next season, a retirement and a one-year personal leave will increase the number of violin openings.

Two open auditions have been held and more are scheduled for next season. It is not uncommon for the Musicians to take more than one season to fill an open position. At the Musicians’ request, Management has authorized hiring four one-year violinists for next season to aid in artistic continuity in the violin section while auditions continue. 

Updated: June 7, 2024