Remodeled Orchestra Hall (
by Steve Timmer
May 24, 2013, 2:00 PM

American Crystal Sugar and the Minnesota Orchestra

I wrote earlier about the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.

What do American Crystal Sugar workers and players in the Minnesota Orchestra have in common?

They were both locked out by their employers. A bitter 20 month lockout at American Crystal Sugar ended recently, and by most accounts with a lot of hard feelings and acrimony remaining. The lockout was not as crippling for ACS as it was for the union workers because ACS hired “temporary” replacement workers, most or all of whom will continue to work after the strike and receive the same package at the union workers, and kept the business operating.

The pressure on the Minnesota Orchestra Board is similarly less than on the players, because concerts can be cancelled, and ticket holders cannot sue the Board for failure to deliver as promised. Jon Campbell and Richard Davis won’t miss any meals. It hasn’t hired “replacement” musicians, well yet, but there is likely to be a lot of replacements if and when the orchestra fires up again. Whether they are great musicians or not, it will take a long time before the ensemble can be said to have been “restored.”

The lockout as a bare-knuckled labor tactic has become more popular among employers since the Supreme Court expanded in American Ship Building v. NLRB, 380 U.S. 300 (1965) the employer’s right to lock out employees any time there isn’t a bargaining agreement in place. The preemptive use of lock out has had a grim history since, especially where there are replacement workers hired (again, not the case here, at least so far).

But back to ACS and the Orchestra Board. Whatever you think of the lockout by ACS, it was only ACS’s business that it put at risk.

The Orchestra Board does not own the Minnesota Orchestra, at least in the same way that ACS owns sugar beet processing plants. Maybe it’s more like a sugar plantation. Seriously, there are a lot more community stakeholders and contributors to the orchestra, as I pointed out in the previous post.

In an op-ed recently, Jo Ellen Saylor, a Board member, wrote that musicians’ salaries were fifty percent of the orchestra’s revenue, and “that can’t continue.” Fifty percent? Why, Jo Ellen, this is an outrage! How dare the people who, um, actually make the music, think they are entitled to half the money? It’s positively uppity!

It’s as if bank employees thought they were entitled to a fair measure of the income earned by banks. This is dangerous thinking and must be nipped in the bud.

Although the figures have undoubtedly moved around a bit since this article was published, it seems that the percentage of revenue dedicated to salaries in professional sports is fifty-two percent or more.

You would think it would be at least that much in a non-profit community cultural enterprise like the Minnesota Orchestra, but you would be wrong, my friends.

Just ask Jo Ellen.

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