BSO donors step up to fund healthcare for musicians

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Still via video from Baltimore Symphony Musicians/Twitter

A group of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra donors and several members of the board of directors stepped up to fund healthcare and dental benefits for musicians as they remain locked out for the summer, the orchestra announced today.

Percussionist Brian Prechtl, co-chair of Baltimore Symphony Musicians, said the players “are grateful for this change of heart.”

“It’s a relief to see leadership begin to understand how this lack of concern for the welfare of their employees reflects inhumanity.”

Coverage was due to end on June 30. Management said it had already extended life insurance benefits in July and August, and is looking to do the same for long-term disability insurance. Musicians already receiving long-term disability benefits will continue to get them.

“The Board of Directors and management greatly appreciate and value the members of our orchestra. This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for the Baltimore Symphony, and we are glad to continue providing health insurance for our musicians during the ongoing negotiations this summer as we work to reach agreement on a new contract,” BSO President and CEO Peter Kjome said in a statement. “We are deeply grateful to members of the Board and other friends of the BSO for supporting this important effort.”

However, there is a dispute about the timing of this announcement. In its statement, the orchestra said musicians and union representatives “were aware that efforts were underway by BSO management to ensure that musicians have” benefits.

But Prechtl said they were told on Tuesday their health insurance would be cancelled. Many quickly bought alternative coverage.

“People are now scrambling to see if they can cancel insurance that has been arranged,” he said. “All of this at a moment when we are already incredibly hard pressed to make ends meet.”

And, he said, there is still uncertainty for the musicians in the midst of the lockout.

“Let’s not forget that the artists that create the music are still locked out without a paycheck instead of on the stage, unsure of their ability to support their families. Let’s also not forget that the public is left without concerts this summer.”

It’s not immediately clear who donated the money, how many people made donations or how much was donated. Previously, the musicians said the organization was saving $250,000 per week by locking them out and not paying salary and benefits.

Both sides have been battling over the Baltimore Symphony’s status as one of the remaining full-time American orchestras since last year. Citing losses of $16 million over the last decade, Kjome and the board have called for reducing the ensemble’s concert calendar from 52 weeks to 40 weeks. Vacation would also be reduced from 9 weeks to 4 weeks, but benefits would stay year-round.

The musicians have countered they’ve already made sacrifices over the years, with salaries significantly lower than their peers, and that cutting performances would diminish the BSO’s status.

Concerts continued after the contract expired in January, but with a reported $1.5 million deficit projected in this fiscal year, management cancelled the summer season and earlier this month locked the musicians out after they couldn’t reach an agreement on a new deal.

Despite today’s offering, they don’t appear any closer to hammering one out. Following a federally mediated bargaining session last week, the musicians said management refused to budge on any of the cuts, and Kjome said he was disappointed to not receive a “meaningful counterproposal.”

Prechtl challenged that idea, telling Baltimore Fishbowl the musicians have asked for a status-quo contract with cost-of-living increases and a commitment to fielding at least 83 musicians.

Brandon Weigel

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