Baltimore Symphony Musicians Fight for Their Orchestra

By Plaine, Mary | International Musician, January 2019 | Go to article overview

Baltimore Symphony Musicians Fight for Their Orchestra


Plaine, Mary, International Musician


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 reports 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.

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 managements 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. …

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