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Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Locks Out Its Musicians

Striking BSO Musicians on the picket line. (Courtesy Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Musicians)
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BALTIMORE (CelebrityAccess) — On Monday, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra officially started a lockout of its musicians after failing to reach an agreement over a new contract.

“Due to the Baltimore Symphony’s urgent need to address longstanding financial issues and change its business model, the BSO has made this extremely difficult decision,” stated President and CEO Peter Kjome in a press statement. “The BSO is a beloved and important cultural anchor for Maryland and our region, and it is vital that our community is home to an exceptional orchestra for generations to come. The BSO remains focused on resuming negotiations and working with our musicians and Local 40-543 to reach agreement on a new contract as soon as possible.”

The BSO cited ongoing financial challenges and a lack of support from the state legislature as the primary motivation for the lockout. The lockout follows the announcement at the end of May that the BSO has canceled its summer concerts, including its New Music Festival that was scheduled to start June 19.

The BSO also announced that it was curtailing its annual schedule from 52 weeks to 40 weeks, and dropping their paid vacation policy from 9 weeks to 4 weeks.  Other events affected include the BSO performance at the Artscape Festival and a Harry Potter film with orchestra performance.

“Despite significant artistic achievements, the BSO has faced financial challenges for many years. There have been intensive efforts to increase revenues and manage costs – for example, administrative staff is leaner in numbers and in overall compensation than in 2009. As the BSO discussed with musicians during collective bargaining sessions last fall, again in subsequent bargaining sessions, and in Finance Committee meetings, the BSO is facing serious cash flow issues following years of substantial losses,” the BSO said in a statement.

“Although State legislation had sought to provide additional financial support for the BSO, the bill’s anticipated funding remains in question. After learning that the funding is very unlikely, the BSO cancelled its New Music Festival and three summer programs on May 30, 2019. A bargaining session scheduled for June 4, 2019, was cancelled at the request of the BSO’s musicians, and no additional bargaining sessions have taken place since that time despite multiple requests by the BSO. The BSO has no choice but to confront immediately its very serious financial issues to help preserve the organization,” the BSO added.

The Baltimore Symphony Musicians said that as of 12:01 AM on Monday, they were no longer being paid and claimed they will lose their health insurance on June 30th. According to the musicians, they also learned about the lockout from social media rather than from the BSO.

The musicians said they had been seeking a 2% cost of living increase and for the BSO to maintain minimum contractually required complement of full-time musicians, along with maintaining current work rules.

“The most appalling aspect of this destructive decision by BSO leadership is that it is completely unnecessary. BSO leadership points to an average $1.6 million annual shortfall in the operations of the orchestra. However, what they don’t mention is that at the same time, the BSO’s endowment trust continues to grow in value. In FY17, total assets grew by $2.4 million,” the Musicians said in a press statement.

“History has taught the Baltimore Symphony Musicians that concessions don’t solve the problems of chronic mismanagement. The musicians have agreed to seven concessionary contracts since 2003, representing millions of dollars of give-backs to the organization each time management claimed financial distress, as they did in 2004, 2010, and now again in 2019,” they added.

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