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Baltimore Symphony Has Bright Future

By Jane Marvine, Member of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD)

I began my tenure at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) serving on the Players’ Committee during a time of great change. The year was 1981. We had plans to build the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and we were locked out by management for 12 weeks. The resulting settlement created a network of supporters called Friends of the BSO and also saw the birth of our 52-week contract. Forty years later, after negotiating numerous contracts, some with incredible gains and some with devastating concessions, I found myself locking arms with my colleagues and supporters once again to save our great orchestra that has taken 103 years to build.

After being locked out for 14 weeks during the 2019 summer, the mid-September contract settlement preserved annual salary thanks to a group of supporters who stepped forward. However, the remaining questions on weeks and size of orchestra were left unresolved. The settlement included the establishment of a standing board committee, the Vision Committee, which is comprised of board, staff, musicians, and community members. The Vision Committee has examined every aspect of the BSO and, to my delight, promises of true collaboration were immediately apparent in the dialog and inclusion in the decision-making taking place.

After bridge funding from the John C. Merrill Act, which was passed by the Maryland General Assembly last year, was withheld, the Work Group, as mandated in the legislation, started meeting. Invited speakers shared concerns and gave advice. Michael Kaiser was invited to speak and was subsequently hired to articulate a vision and draft a plan. The result was embraced by the Vision Committee, approved by the BSO board, and inspired donors to create a transformational fund. Within three months, nearly $10 million has been raised to cover shortfalls for the current year and forestall the use of next season’s ticket money.

On February 25, the Work Group submitted its report to the Maryland General Assembly, which included its support for the Kaiser plan. In the report are a series of recommendations to improve community engagement, education, and the patron experience; board development; and the use of technology. It recommends five additional years of bridge funding from the state of Maryland to help the BSO put many of the proposals into practice.

One of the most important aspects of the plan is the recommendation that the orchestra maintain the 52-week structure. Kaiser advocates that success is dependent on putting the art first, and that generating enthusiasm for the artistic product of the organization is the number-one factor in driving contributed and earned income. The musicians have supported the plan enthusiastically since it articulates that the art we make is the key to success and therefore preserves what we have built so far. The plan has rallied a new spirit and understanding from the staff, board, and donor community regarding the importance of this essential message. Alignment of all stakeholders is a beautiful and powerful source of strength.

Testimony was given to the state legislature by Ed Kasemeyer, retired state senator and former chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee and Work Group chair; Michael Kaiser, turnaround consultant; Peter Kjome, BSO president and CEO; and myself on March 12. The testimony included the update that nearly $10 million has been raised for the transformational fund. Concurrently, it was announced that $1.6 million of grant money from the Merrill Act was restored for the fiscal year which begins in July 2020.

On March 17, 2020 the bill providing additional funding to support Kaiser’s plan was passed by the Maryland General Assembly and awaits Governor Hogan’s signature to become law. This funding will allow the BSO to maintain its structure, increase investment in needed areas for income growth, and pave the way for restoration of the orchestra complement. The BSO will be establishing new ways to connect with communities and partner with arts organizations across the state. Musicians will be leaders in making that happen.

Amid all of this positive news and hard work, COVID-19 has hit our country and performing arts organizations with a sledgehammer. Just as we are emerging from a devasting—nearly fatal—episode, this is especially challenging for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The effects of this global pandemic on the BSO remain to be seen. Personally, I am hopeful that the new level of inclusion and transparency across the organization for all stake holders, including our donors and community members, will continue to inspire us all and create a constructive path forward. We are working together in an unprecedented fashion and this gives me hope for a bright future in spite of the challenges we face.

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Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Members and Advocates Create New ‘Make Music’ Project

The musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have been locked out of their concert halls and have not received a paycheck since June 17. How have the musicians been making ends meet financially and musically since mid-June?

Before the lockout, a few of the players had already made plans to play in festivals this summer, but since the lockout began, several personnel managers have hired Baltimore Symphony musicians to play in their orchestras. There are many photographs of orchestra musicians from around the country posing with our players and wearing Baltimore Symphony Musicians (BSM) T-shirts. 

The BSO Players’ Committee and its supporters have worked hard to organize work for their colleagues in and around Baltimore. The biggest event to date was putting 60-plus musicians on stage for an Independence Day concert in partnership with the government of Baltimore County. Future concerts for the full orchestra are being planned.

Additionally, BSO musicians and advocates have developed and implemented a project called “Make Music with Baltimore Symphony Musicians.” The group plays chamber music for fundraising and friend-raising. Events have involved home concerts in Baltimore and Montgomery County, Maryland, including side-by-side experiences.

BSM chamber groups have played across Maryland from the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in the western portion of the state to the Dorchester County Center for the Arts and Temple B’Nai Israel on the Eastern Shore—making friends, creating awareness, and seeking long-term partnerships for the future. More concerts are planned.

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BSM presented a Summer Subway Series, playing five concerts during the evening rush hour in one of Baltimore’s subway stations, calling attention to the upright piano that had been installed by the transit authority. A five-concert chamber music series called “The Healing Power of Music” was presented at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

When the First Annual Baltimore Jazz Festival was relocated from the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to another venue so as to avoid the picket line, the organizer of the festival offered to the Baltimore Symphony Musicians an opportunity to play a set, access to reduced priced tickets, and some financial support. Make Music organized a string quintet with oboe, trumpet and percussion to entertain festival attendees with music of Piazzolla, Reinhardt, Ginastera, and Ravel. 

When the employer canceled BSO’s summer work, it also canceled what was going to be the 10th anniversary of the BSO Academy, a week-long intensive side-by-side fantasy camp for avocational musicians. Make Music with BSM devoted two weekends in July to an intensive three days of playing and coaching chamber groups, and brass ensemble and string orchestra reading sessions at a Baltimore church, thus creating a last-minute replacement for the Academy. 

All of these events have been funded through donations to the Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ welfare fund and Go Fund Me account, providing both financial support and musical sustenance. The Make Music with Baltimore Symphony Musicians project intends to continue after a contract settlement is reached with the BSO so that Baltimore Symphony Musicians stay connected with musicians, donors, and communities across the state of Maryland.

A few other hall rentals were relocated away from the Meyerhoff Concert Hall this summer. Local 40-543 and the Baltimore Symphony Musicians thank International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 19 for their cooperation and ongoing support during this summer’s lockout. 

The next bargaining session is scheduled for August 21. The musicians believe it is important to get the orchestra back on stage, but not without a ratified collective bargaining agreement in place.

Thank you to all of the orchestras, AFM locals and individuals who have contributed to the support of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians. 

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Solidarity with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Musicians Continues

Orchestras throughout the US continue to don Baltimore Symphony Musicians T-shirts to express solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Local 40-543 who have been locked out by management for the past two months. Many of these orchestras have taken photos of themselves showing this support. Last month, we had photos of eight orchestras, this month we add three more: New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh.

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baltimore symphony musicians

Baltimore Symphony Musicians Locked Out, Summer Season Canceled

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Baltimore Symphony to Have a Summer Season After All

Although Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ (BSM) leadership has had a break from the traditional collective bargaining process, they continued to advance their cause in other, less traditional ways. On March 25, a group of musicians performed at Union Baptist Church in Baltimore City as part of an event to bring attention to The Johns Hopkins Hospital nurses’ organizing campaign. More specifically, the performance raised money for RN Vivian Obijekwu, who was unjustly terminated by the hospital after she advocated for safe patient care and fair treatment on her unit. Two hundred people attended the concert and helped raise $10,000 for Obijekwu, who recently won the right to receive unemployment benefits. She has a June date for an Unfair Labor Practice hearing in connection to her dismissal.

BSM Committee Co-Chair Greg Mulligan told the audience, “Although Hopkins nurses and BSO musicians have different occupations, we share the same general concerns. Both occupations take a lot of training, dedication, and teamwork. Musicians and nurses want to be treated with respect.”

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Baltimore Symphony Musicians, members of Local 40-543, with Vivian Obijekwu, RN, for whom the musicians played a benefit concert in March. Obijekwu was fired by Johns Hopkins Hospital during the National Nurses Organizing Committee’s ongoing drive to gain union recognition for the nurses.

In a note to the musicians, Obijekwu wrote, “I would like to say a big thank you for everything your team did for me during the benefit concert. Words cannot express how grateful I am for all your help and support!” Baltimore Symphony Musicians support for the National Nurses Organizing Committee is an important demonstration of the power of music and the value of networking and working together to help our sisters and brothers in labor. In other words, if you want a friend, be a friend. For the past few months, the BSM negotiating committee received a lot of extra help and advice, and with the assistance of the company Phone2Action, built a fan base that sent more than 33,000 emails to Maryland’s state senators and delegates in support of House Bill 1404. The John C. Merrill Act, named in honor of a recently deceased former member of the orchestra, allocates a total of $3.2 million in additional state funding to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in FY 2020 and 2021.

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Delegate Maggie McIntosh, chair of the Maryland House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee, and Brian Prechtl, Baltimore Symphony percussionist and co-chair of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ Committee, take a minute to enjoy the final vote that passed The John C. Merrill Act out of the Maryland General Assembly and onto the governor’s desk.

Per the legislation, three members of the negotiating committee will serve on a workgroup, along with members of the board and management. The workgroup will report back to the legislators in the fall. Although the initial push for the bill came from the musicians, BSO leadership joined with the musicians in lobbying tirelessly for the bill’s passage. As of this writing, all parties await the governor’s signature on the bill, while working to identify candidates for the chair position of the workgroup.

Lastly, although the draconian October 30 management proposal that includes a cut of 12 weeks has not been withdrawn, and in spite of the fact that the musicians have been working without a contract since mid-January, the BSM have worked with management to craft a summer season for which the musicians will continue to be employed and paid. The summer will include the BSO’s popular Academy program, celebrating its 10th anniversary in July.

The negotiating committee anticipates getting back to the bargaining table once the state funding bill has been signed into law by the governor in either late April or May. Baltimore Symphony Musicians are represented by Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD).

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Saga of Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ Contract Talks Continues

Continuing to rehearse and perform under the terms of an expired CBA since January 15, Baltimore Symphony Musicians are also working hard to build political support in both Baltimore City Hall and the Maryland state legislature for increased public funding. A resolution passed by the Baltimore City Council urged the Maryland General Assembly to restore the BSO’s state funding to pre-recession levels, “ensuring that [the Baltimore Symphony] remains a vital cultural and artistic asset for generations to come.”

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Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello, Baltimore Symphony Musician and Players’ Committee co-chair Brian Prechtl of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), and BSO Music Director Marin Alsop of Local 802 (New York City) stand next to a copy of the Baltimore City Council resolution, introduced by Costello, in support of additional state funding for the orchestra.

Members of the BSO Players’ Committee, initially by themselves, and later joined by some of the orchestra’s board and management leadership, met with numerous state delegates and senators to effectively lobby for House Bill 1404, which will provide two years of additional state funding of $1.6 million each year. As of mid-March, the bill has been passed by the Maryland House of Delegates and awaits discussion and vote in the Senate. Assuming the bill becomes law, the two-year grant would go into effect July 1.

The bill requires the creation of a work group comprising board members, administrators, and musicians under a chairperson approved by the leaders of the general assembly. The purpose of the work group is to examine structural efficiencies of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, including health care costs and facility usage, and make recommendations regarding cost containment strategies and audience development. The report is due to the Maryland General Assembly by October 1.

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Baltimore Symphony Musician Michael Lisicky of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), aka The Button Man, gives a young concert attendee a Baltimore Symphony Musicians button.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Symphony Musicians, members of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), continue to appear out in the community. An ensemble recently performed at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, and a woodwind quintet will play Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (with narration in Spanish) at one of the city’s library branches. A group of musicians will also take part in an event sponsored by the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC). The NNOC is conducting an organizing campaign for the nurses of Johns Hopkins Hospital. In addition to raising awareness about the nurses’ issues, this concert is a benefit for a pregnant registered nurse who advocated for fair treatment and improved patient care, and was fired after requesting Family and Medical Leave Act information.

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BSO Musicians Host Community Event as Contract Struggles Continue

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A January 8 event at Baltimore’s Basilica raised more than $12,000 for My Sister’s Place, an organization that provides services for homeless and impoverished women and children in Baltimore City.

On January 8, brass players from the National Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony and Opera Orchestras, and The Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as musicians from Canadian Brass and Semper Fi, joined their brother and sister brass and percussion players from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to perform a free concert that was open to the public. The event, which took place at Baltimore’s Basilica of the Assumption, America’s oldest cathedral, raised more than $12,000 for My Sister’s Place, an organization that provides services for homeless and impoverished women and children in Baltimore City.

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Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ brass extravaganza gathered musicians from several regional orchestras to support a Baltimore charity, while publicizing the BSM’s contract issues.

The concert was also a display of support for the Baltimore Symphony Musicians as they fight to retain their 52-week contract and other hard-won provisions gained at bargaining tables over decades of contract negotiations. As of midnight January 15, the four-month contract extension between management of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its musicians, represented by AFM Local 40-543, had expired; BSO management said it is not interested in signing another extension.

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Former Baltimore City mayor, former Maryland governor, and former Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, who was host for the Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ successful concert at Baltimore’s Basilica, shows off his official BSM t-shirt. O’Malley was made an honorary member of AFM Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD) in April 2000.

The Baltimore Symphony Musicians are focused on maintaining a competitive compensation and benefit package that will allow the organization to attract and retain high caliber musicians, maintain and improve the health and safety language in the CBA, and empower the BSO to bring transcendent performances to audiences in Maryland and beyond.

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A standing-room-only crowd of supporters packed the Basilica to support the Baltimore Symphony Musicians.

In a statement issued January 16, musicians say they will continue performing on the stages of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the Music Center at Strathmore unless management locks them out or unilaterally stops respecting contract terms.

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Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh and BSO Players’ Committee Co-Chair and Percussionist Brian Prechtl.

Baltimore Symphony Musicians remain committed to serving their community by improving people’s lives through music. Visit their website (BSOmusicians.org) and Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/BaltimoreSymphonyMusicians) for more coverage of the January 8 concert and for updates of their contract talks.

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Baltimore Symphony Musicians Fight for Their Orchestra

by Mary Plaine, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD)

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Baltimore Symphony Musicians, members of Local 40-543, play a pre-concert pop-up in the Strathmore Hall lobby to raise awareness. This photo was taken after management took away their music stands, explaining that they were not authorized to use them because it was not a BSO-sanctioned event.

Although Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) management made noises about early negotiations during the 2017-2018 season, they chose instead to invite the musicians, members of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), to participate in a strategic planning process. When the content of the plan suddenly took a sharp turn, the musicians objected strongly to the report’s new focus on financial stability and the lack of any substantive discussions of the orchestra complement, currently experiencing more than 20 vacancies. The report has now apparently been secretly adopted by the BSO’s board of trustees, behind the backs of the musicians.

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Management had requested a bargaining date in late June but then canceled it with a 24-hour notice. An informal exploratory meeting between the two sides in July yielded no positive results. The August vacation, along with a tour to Great Britain, prevented any real negotiations until September 6—three days before the contract was due to expire. At this session, management proposed an extension until January 15. The musicians offered a slightly different four-month extension, with restoration of the complement to the agreed upon 83 full-time positions. Musicians then also offered to discuss a long-term progressive deal. Management said no. 

BSO musicians began their new season without a formal extension in place. The musicians continued to show up for work and distributed leaflets prior to their concerts, alerting patrons to the fact that the orchestra was working without a contract and asking supporters to follow the musicians on their social media sites.

When BSO musicians sat down at the bargaining table October 30 for only their second negotiating meeting (the first since their contract expired September 9), they were walked through a complete rewriting of their collective bargaining agreement by management’s lawyer. When the union asked to see a “red-line” copy of the proposal, they were handed a 77-page document on which every single page had a change.

This October 30 “shock and awe” proposal included reducing the musicians’ 52-week contract to 40 (including four paid vacation weeks) with the remaining 12 weeks paid at a rate equivalent to the State of Maryland’s unemployment benefit. At minimum, this represents a 17% cut in wages. The proposal also includes the elimination of the summer season, guaranteed relief services, management’s contribution into a 401a retirement account, and all language pertaining to touring.

Management also proposed adjusting run-out language to give it greater scheduling flexibility, reducing personal leave services, and doubling the number of nine-service weeks, along with changes to medical insurance, sick leave, and maternity pay. And although management is telling the public that the changes will not affect their concert experience, classical subscription programs would be reduced from 24 to 18.

Subsequent to the October 30 proposal, the musicians accepted the September 6 extension.

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Brian Prechtl and Melissa Hooper of Local 40-543 distribute flyers and buttons in the lobby of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall prior to opening subscription concerts in September.

The musicians have found tremendous support in a group of donors who have written a strongly worded open letter to the board. The Baltimore Sun has published letters in support of management’s position written by the BSO board chair (“We Need to Secure the Orchestra’s Future”) and the grand-daughter of the man after whom the BSO concert hall is named (“Time Has Come for Baltimore to Make Hard Choices”). It has also published letters in support of the musicians’ position, by BSO Players’ Committee Co-Chairs Greg Mulligan and Brian Prechtl (“BSO Management Undervalues Musicians”) and another by ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow and President Paul Austin (“BSO Fundraising: a Challenge but Feasible”).

BSO management claims it has lost $16 million in 10 years. The musicians counter that, while the orchestra’s budget grew by 46%, the musicians’ share of those costs rose less than 7%. The union believes that management has done a good job of raising endowment funds, while starving the institution of operating revenue.

BSO management’s proposal would put the burden of saving money squarely on the backs of the musicians, literally. Musicians would pay, not only with reduced wages and benefits, but with more work crammed into fewer weeks, with less access to time off. Not only do the musicians fear losing their world-class status and losing existing players and potential new players to ensembles with stronger contracts, they will have to contend with having fewer full-time players on stage due to increased injuries.

The next scheduled bargaining date is January 7. The extension is due to expire January 15.