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Minn. Orchestra Musicians Say Strike Is Possibility

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - The Minnesota Orchestra says it's facing significant financial challenges and needs to cut costs substantially. But musicians aren't happy about the pay cuts they're being asked to take.

Under the proposal, annual salaries would drop from $135,000 to $89,000. Musicians would pay more for health insurance, but their annual pension contribution would increase just more than 2 percent.

The Orchestra Board believes it's time for musicians to play their part in the orchestra's financial success by taking cuts.

In a statement, the Board has said, "...the organization could no longer survive based on optimistic economic assumptions and the hope of limitless benefactor generosity."

According to a spokesperson for the Minnesota Orchestra, 20 percent of staff has already been laid off. Current management and staff have taken salary and pension contribution deductions.

The current musicians' contract expires in just a week, and they have been meeting with their union leaders and the Orchestra's board members all day on Monday.

Musicians say they don't want to strike, but they will do so if necessary. Along with the board, they really they want to get things figured out before that current contract ends.

There are other things the Orchestra is doing to raise cash, and they have launched a comprehensive campaign to sell more tickets and get more donations.

The Minnesota Orchestra is admired as one of America's top symphonic ensembles with nearly a hundred musicians, like clarinetist Tim Zavadil.

"This is absolutely my dream job," Zavadil said. But now Tim and his colleagues say that they're disheartened by management's desire to cut salaries.

Management is spending $50 million on Orchestra Hall renovations. It sees the updates as a way to solve the financial problems by hopefully appealing to a broad, future audience.

But musicians see it as unwise, unnecessary spending, while they are asked to take cuts. And it's putting musicians like Tim in a position that he never imagined when he joined the Orchestra 5 years ago.

"I feel like I'd certainly be looking at other opportunities that I never before dreamed that I'd be looking at," he said.

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