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Baltimore Symphony Musicians Back on the Stage

On September 23, the Baltimore Symphony Musicians, members of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), returned to the concert hall after a 14-week lockout. We made a very difficult decision to accept the terms of a one-year agreement that maintains our annual salary while working only 40 weeks out of the remaining 50 weeks during the 2019-20 season.

One provision of the agreement that the musicians achieved is a greater voice in the decision-making processes of the BSO. A Vision Committee has been established consisting of musicians, BSO staff, BSO board members, and community leaders. This group will be working together to solidify the finances of the organization, structure an additional two years onto the current agreement, and help establish the future direction of the BSO.

Several of the same Vision Committee members including musicians, staff, and board members are working together under the leadership of former Maryland State Senator Ed Kasemeyer as part of a state work group provided for by HB 1404, a bill passed by the Maryland General Assembly last spring that is also slated to provide $1.3 million in bridge funding for the orchestra. At a recent meeting of the work group, Michael Kaiser, of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, offered his advice on how to help struggling arts organizations thrive. “Good art, well marketed” is his mantra.

Following this meeting, the BSO retained Kaiser as a consultant to help write a plan designed to help the organization begin a turnaround process. He has begun to meet with various stakeholders in the organization. He is doing research for an extensive internal and external environmental analysis. We look forward to hearing some preliminary feedback soon and a full report by early February. We are also hopeful that Kaiser’s involvement will inspire renewed donor confidence, the support of the state of Maryland, and return the attention of all of the stakeholders to the mission.

The most encouraging aspect of Kaiser’s approach is his assertion that the only way to create success for an arts organization is to put the art first. This seems obvious to all of us who have spent our lives sacrificing in so many ways to keep the music first. We can only hope that the rest of our organization’s leadership will finally see the light.

baltimore symphony orchestra

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Musicians Reach Tentative Contract Agreement

The Musicians’ Association of Metropolitan Baltimore, Local 40-543, (MAMB) and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Inc. (BSO) on September 20 reached a tentative agreement on a proposed one-year contract. Ratified by the orchestra and by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors, the agreement will enable the Baltimore Symphony to open its concert season on Friday, September 27.

Details of the agreement were not available at press time, but were released at a joint press event on the afternoon of September 23.

The deal will end the 14-week work stoppage of musicians by the BSO, during which orchestra musicians have been locked out of their concert halls and have not received a paycheck.

“Baltimore Symphony Musicians and Local 40-543 are grateful to all of our AFM sisters and brothers who through their verbal and financial support helped us reach this agreement,” said Local 40-543 Secretary-Treasurer Mary C. Plaine in a statement. “It is good to know we can count on our colleagues as we continue our fight to preserve and grow the artistic legacy of the BSO.”

In an email to orchestra members, BSO CEO Peter Kjome stated, “This has been an extraordinarily challenging time for our organization, and for you most of all. It would be impossible to express how difficult this summer has been, and how meaningful it will be for you to return to the stage. The year ahead will be a pivotal one for the BSO. I believe that one of the most important aspects of the agreement is the commitment to including members of the orchestra in additional aspects of planning, programming, fundraising, and governance. While we have much work to do to strengthen our organization, we know that we can achieve far greater success by working together.”

baltimore symphony orchestra
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Players’ Committee Co-Chair and percussionist Brian Prechtl and Baltimore City Council President Brandon M. Scott share a moment together after the concert at New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore City on September 14.

The Baltimore Symphony Musicians have been picketing in front of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall since mid-June and had said they would not return to work until they had a ratified agreement in place.

As negotiations between musicians and management have been ongoing, the most recent development—prior to the September 20 tentative proposal—was a September 9 “final” take-it-or-leave-it offer from management to its musicians. The BSO asked the orchestra to vote on the proposal, which contained an Option No. 1 and an Option No. 2—both options were rejected overwhelmingly by the musicians.

Federal mediators proposed an extension of negotiations until close of business on September 12, which management rejected. Musicians then suggested an extension until the close of voting, but management rejected that proposal as well. The proposal was presented to the orchestra Tuesday evening, September 10, and the vote was taken electronically.

Under Option No. 1, the musicians, members of Local 40-543, would be paid for 40 weeks of work, which has been the employer’s goal since bargaining began. The employer proposed an incomprehensible Rube Goldberg-combination of stipend and donor money to pay the musicians for 12 weeks of non-work. This “bonus” would require the musicians to waive their seniority and over-scale payments for the 12 weeks of non-work. The employer would also agree to hire up to six musicians; when the orchestra does return to work, there will be only 75 full-time musicians under contract, in violation of the 83 mandated by the latest expired CBA, and the 98 that was required before the BSO started extracting round after round of cuts from the orchestra many years ago.

In addition, the BSO wanted to eliminate all guaranteed relief services. They wanted the musicians to agree to participate in the new Integrated Media Agreement, but they planned for the musicians to underwrite that expense. And the employer wanted to initiate yet another joint workgroup, a “vision committee,” which would be a new standing committee of the board.

Option No. 2 was simply an extension of the expired agreement through December 31, 2019, which would have gotten the musicians back on stage with no guarantee that they wouldn’t be locked out again on January 1, 2020.

The employer “lifted” its lockout on the evening of September 9. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board on September 10, in part charging the BSO with failure to bargain in good faith and unlawfully locking out the musicians to put in place the employer’s unilateral implementation of their 40 work-week proposal without reaching an impasse.

The Baltimore Symphony Musicians negotiated in good faith throughout the summer during the lockout. They, along with important community leaders, organized prominent donors to assist in this process, donors who have brought over $1 million designated specifically for musician compensation to help secure a contract.

The musicians have maintained they would continue the fight to preserve their 103-year-old institution, which serves the city of Baltimore, the surrounding counties, and the state of Maryland, and that they have always been ready and willing to go back to the negotiating table to achieve an agreement that would enable them to continue to attract and retain the highest quality musicians to perform for their audiences. 

Baltimore Symphony Musicians Support Nurses’ Organizing Campaign

On Saturday, July 20, Baltimore Symphony Musician brass players, along with guest musicians, played “Which Side Are You On?” and “Solidarity Forever” at a labor rally in front of the Dome at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Sponsored by the AFL-CIO, National Nurses United, and the Coalition for a Humane Hopkins, the event featured both national and local labor and political leaders who spoke in support of the organizing campaign for Hopkins nurses to gain union recognition and collective bargaining power.

BSO Musicians John Vance (left) and Gabrielle Finck (with son Maximilian) at the July 20 labor rally supporting Johns Hopkins University nurses as they work to gain union recognition and collective bargaining power. Photo: Mary Plaine

Hopkins nurses have been fighting the hospital’s anti-union campaign for months. The nurses are organizing for respect, a voice at the table, and the ability to advocate for better patient care without fear of retribution. In addition, their campaign has focused on the egregious medical debt collection practices that Johns Hopkins Hospital continues despite widespread criticism.

In June, the hospital reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board to agree to stop violating federal labor law with such practices as unlawful surveillance and interrogation of RNs and barring off-duty RNs access to non-patient care areas to talk to their colleagues about the union. However, nurses report continued violations of their rights and an aggressive union-busting campaign designed to silence their voices.

Hopkins nurses and members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) first approached the Baltimore Symphony Musicians at the musicians’ solidarity concert in January at Baltimore’s Basilica of the Assumption. Since then, Baltimore Symphony Musicians performed at Baltimore’s Union Baptist Church for an NNOC event, helping raise over $10,000 for a pregnant nurse who had been unjustly fired. The nurses and NNOC members regularly walk with Baltimore Symphony Musicians on their picket line around the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

“What was so amazing to witness at today’s rally was the bond our musicians have made with members of many other labor organizations in our community,” says Local 40-543 Secretary-Treasurer Mary Plaine. “It was heartening to recognize our new friends among the crowd. We are grateful for their support, and we will do what we can to help them with their struggles. That’s what this is all about, taking care of each other.”

Speakers at the July event included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Secretary-Treasurer Liz Schuler, National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees J. David Cox, Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO President Donna Edwards, Metropolitan Baltimore Council President Jermaine Jones, Johns Hopkins Hospital nurses and patients, and members of the U.S. Congress, the Maryland General Assembly, and Baltimore City Council.

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Baltimore Symphony Musicians Locked Out, Summer Season Canceled

baltimore symphony musicians

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.

baltimore symphony musicians

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.

baltimore symphony musicians

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.

baltimore symphony musicians
Former BSO Music Director David Zinman stood with the BSO musicians in their picket lines last week.

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.

How to donate to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians

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:
Greg Mulligan
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.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to Receive State Funding

In an effort to help Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) musicians and management reach a contract agreement, a bill providing an additional $3.2 million in state funding to the orchestra over the next two years is expected to become law by the end of May. The $1.6 million in annual support will be in addition to $3.3 million in state and local government funding for the current year. BSO’s current annual budget is more than $29 million, and the last reported evaluation of the BSO endowment showed a balance in excess of $72 million.

In February, the Baltimore City Council passed a resolution urging the Maryland legislature to restore its support for the symphony to pre-recession levels. The resulting bill—called the John C. Merrill Act, in honor of the late BSO violinist—was approved by both the House of Delegates and Senate in April. The bill also establishes a working group to examine the BSO’s business model. The group will be tasked with exploring, among other things, health care options and strategies for attracting younger and more diverse audiences to the symphony.

BSO musicians, members of Local 40-543, have been playing without a contract since January; negotiation sessions are ongoing.

Baltimore Symphony Musicians Continue to Champion Their Cause

In partnership with Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), Baltimore Symphony Musicians planned to host an event February 27 to build support among politicians and other civic leaders as the musicians continue their fight for a fair contract. Performing works by Beethoven and Mozart, the members of Local 40-543 will be conducted by internationally acclaimed pianist, teacher, and former Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Resident Conductor Leon Fleisher, who recently turned 90. This event follows other outreach activities undertaken by the musicians—a brass extravaganza at Baltimore’s Basilica in November, a pop-up concert at Penn Station in December, and the delivery of more than 400 pounds of supplies to a food bank in response to the five-week federal employee furlough.

Although their contract extension expired January 15, the musicians continue to work scheduled rehearsals and concerts. Contract talks are scheduled for March and April. Members of the players’ committee have also been lobbying state and local legislators for increased funding.

AVAM, America’s official national museum for outsider art, is located in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore City. The museum’s director, Rebecca Hoffberger, is showing her strong support for the Baltimore Symphony Musicians by donating the museum’s performance space for the event. She says, “The late Jim Rouse said cities were meant to be gardens, in which to grow beautiful people.” Maintaining the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will help Baltimore and its environs be that garden.

Orchestras and Programming Selected for SHIFT 2020 at Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Washington Performing Arts have announced the four orchestras selected to participate in the third SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras, to take place March 23-29, 2020. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Jacksonville Symphony, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, will each give a Kennedy Center Concert Hall performance with all tickets priced at $25, plus each will take part in citywide residency activities.

The festival will feature diverse repertoire, thematic collaborations, commissioned works, dialogue and vocal elements, as well as projections. Each orchestra will share a version of their own education and community engagement programming with the DC community. The DC festival also provides an opportunity for the orchestras to interact with their respective elected officials and to educate members of Congress about the value of the arts and orchestras. The hope is that SHIFT 2020 will facilitate conversations about the impact and value of the arts on communities.

Jacksonville Symphony

Performing at Kennedy Center March 24, Jacksonville Symphony’s SHIFT theme is “Bridges” and its program will explore the influences of jazz on traditional classical composers. Residency activities will include “Compose Yourself.” Composer-in-residence Courtney Bryan and symphony musicians, members of Local 444 (Jacksonville, FL), will help middle school students compose a personal theme song.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will celebrate the changing faces of America in a program ranging from Dvořák to Florence Price to Golijov for its March 25 Kennedy Center performance. Residency activities will involve musicians of all ages through the acclaimed OrchKids program and Rusty Musicians, inviting amateur adult musicians to play side-by-side with Baltimore Symphony musicians, members of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD).

Knoxville Symphony Orchestra

On March 27, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s Kennedy Center performance and program will celebrate the artistic legacy of Knoxville. Its residency will focus on its Music & Wellness program. Musicians, members of Local 546 (Knoxville, TN), will work with local nursing staff and a neonatal unit to bring live, therapeutic music to patients in health care facilities.

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, members of Local 802 (New York City), and Classical Theatre of Harlem will offer a portrait of cultural diversity and vitality in New York City through a musical/theatrical performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on March 28. Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, with the Classical Theatre of Harlem, will present residency activities centered on the Orpheus Process, its signature collaborative method. An Orpheus Reflections residency will serve DC-area residents living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and their caregivers.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Plans Overseas Tour

This August, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) will travel to Europe, marking its first overseas tour in 13 years. Thus far, the orchestra’s first tour stop is the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland. The first BSO program at the festival will feature Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F Major with French pianist Jean Yves Thibaudet, Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, and Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird. A second program celebrates the centennial of Leonard Bernstein—mentor to BSO Music Director Marin Alsop of Local 802 (New York City)—on his birthday, with music composed by and in honor of Bernstein. Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti will join BSO for Bernstein’s Serenade. BSO will also perform at the Proms.

This will be the first time the orchestra has traveled internationally since Alsop became music director in 2007; BSO’s most recent tour was to Oregon and California in 2012. BSO musicians are represented by Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD).

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Undertakes Historic Fundraising Campaign

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has announced one of the largest fundraising campaigns in its 101-year history, aiming to raise $65 million by December 2019. In the quiet phase of the campaign, which focused on discussions with board members and major donors, the orchestra has reached about two-thirds of its goal, with $42.6 million raised. The Campaign Committee includes a wide range of key stakeholders, including board members, staff, musicians, and other community leaders.

BSO plans to put $50 million toward its endowment to sustain future growth of the orchestra and enable it to attract and retain top musicians. An additional $10 million will go toward its education programs, including the expansion of OrchKids, an El Sistema-inspired program that is currently offered at six Title I schools in the city. The final $5 million will support BSO’s annual fund. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians are members of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD).