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June 25, 2019IM -
For the first time in three decades, the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) have been locked out. The news became official June 16, when orchestra management announced that it would be canceling the summer season, suspending musicians’ pay and cutting off their health insurance. At a June 21 bargaining session with BSO management, musicians also learned that their Long-Term Disability coverage was canceled as of June 17, and their life insurance policies would be canceled as of September 1.
BSO musicians, members of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), have played without a contract since January. Previously, the orchestra board proposed cutting the concert season from 52 weeks to 40, amounting to a loss of 20% in income and benefits for musicians. The lockout, which bars musicians from going to work, effectively achieves that goal.
During the winter, musicians mounted a campaign to raise public awareness of the orchestra’s plight, resulting in the passage of House Bill 1404 by the Maryland General Assembly which includes $3.2 million in funding in support of the BSO.
Releasing the first installment of the two-year grant might have averted the lockout. On May 30, at an urgent session of the bargaining committee, management told musicians it was unlikely Gov. Larry Hogan would make funding immediately available. By the end of the meeting, news of the canceled summer season was out to the media, where most musicians first learned of management’s decision. On June 13, the state confirmed it would not release the funds, citing management practices and lack of donor confidence in the organization. According to BSO President and CEO Peter Kjome, the orchestra is scheduled to reconvene in September for the fall season, when he claims the lockout will end.
In its more-than-100-year history, the BSO has experienced five prior work stoppages: strikes in 1937, 1968, 1971, and 1988, and a lockout in 1981. The longest work stoppage was a 22-week strike from September 1988 to February 1989.
Musicians call the lockout a management scare tactic and dispute the severity of the financial crisis. They say that the BSO could pay them for the summer by drawing additional funds from the $72.6 million BSO endowment trust, on top of the $3.838 million annual draw that is part of the operating budget. Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the Players’ Committee, observes that if the lockout continues until September, the orchestra will save $2.5 million on musicians’ wages and health care—which is coming directly out of musicians’ pockets. “Our line of the budget has remained flat for at least 10 years.” Musicians have made several concessions over a decade of negotiations. Their contracts have only recently returned to 2008 compensation levels.
According to longtime BSO subscriber and donor John Warshawsky, who heads the advocacy group Save Our BSO, the lockout emphasizes the importance of growing the endowment to achieve long-term stability. At the same time, it fails to highlight the hardship and unexpected loss of paycheck for the 75 orchestra members.
BSO management and board have failed to maximize donations and income, including a year in which the orchestra operated without a director of development. In addition to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, the orchestra performs at a second venue at Strathmore, in Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest parts of the state. Many argue this exclusive area has never been fully tapped for its potential.
As of this writing, Baltimore Symphony Musicians are picketing at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. More negotiations between musicians and management will be scheduled.
The musicians have received strong support from many quarters. Delegates to the 101st AFM Convention, held June 17-20 in Las Vegas, pledged nearly $100,000 in support for the locked-out musicians. The delegates also unanimously adopted an Emergency Resolution condemning the actions of BSO management and calling for an end to the lockout.
To send online contributions to the Baltimore Symphony Musicians, visit www.bsomusicians.org/public_html/donate/
To send contributions to the Baltimore Symphony Musicians by check:
Send check to:
Co-Chair, Baltimore Symphony Players Committee
11955 Long Lake Drive
Reisterstown, MD 21136
Make check payable to: Baltimore Symphony Musicians, Inc.
To send contributions to The Musicians’ Association of Metropolitan Baltimore to help offset the loss of work dues:
Send check to:
The Musicians’ Association of Metropolitan Baltimore
1055 Taylor Avenue, Suite 218
Baltimore, MD 21286
Make check payable to “Local 40-543, AFM”
The most recent updates about the Baltimore Symphony Musicians can be found on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BaltimoreSymphonyMusicians.