BSO, players remain at impasse after latest bargaining session

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Photo by Maryland GovPics on Flickr.

It appears the labor battle between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its musicians is no closer to reaching a resolution.

Baltimore Symphony Musicians, a group representing the orchestra’s players, blasted management this afternoon for keeping its “draconian” demands to cut the concert schedule by 20 percent during a federally mediated bargaining session today.

Arguing management “refused to budge,” the musicians said they learned their long-term disability insurance was cancelled as of June 17, and that life insurance policies will be next, on September 1.

“The BSO is saving a quarter-million dollars a week by locking out the Musicians,” the statement said. “Baltimore and Maryland are deprived of their summer season of music making.”

BSO President and CEO Peter Kjome released a statement saying he was disappointed to not receive a counterproposal from musicians as the orchestra faces a financial crisis. In making the case for reducing the BSO’s schedule from 52 weeks to 40 weeks, Kjome has said the orchestra has lost $16 million over the last decade.

“We remain disappointed that there has been no meaningful counterproposal that addresses the urgent financial issues our organization is facing since negotiations began last year,” he said today. “If the BSO is going to survive, our business model needs to change. We will continue to work with our musicians as we navigate this change and prepare for a future that is strong and vibrant.”

Baltimore Symphony Musicians co-chair Brian Prechtl challenged Kjome’s characterization, telling Baltimore Fishbowl the players have asked for a status-quo contract with cost-of-living increases and a commitment to fielding at least 83 musicians.

He also said they asked for the end of the lockout and a continuation of health care.

Both sides pledged to continue negotiating in good faith.

On its Facebook page, the musicians’ group also shared a flier that said, even though the orchestra has fallen short in its $65 million capital campaign, the organization’s endowment is worth $72.5 million. As of January, ticket sales were up 14 percent, they claimed.

“The resulting lack of funding by the Endowment Trust has created an artificial ‘cash shortage’ for BSO operations,” the flier said.

Management proposed reducing the orchestra’s schedule last October. While the plan, in addition to cutting the schedule, called for reducing the number of vacation weeks from 9 to 4, it kept a 52-week benefits schedule.

“These proposed changes would have minimal impact on our audiences due to the fact that the reductions are in the summer weeks where the Baltimore Symphony traditionally presents few performances,” management said in its statement today.

The musicians have argued the BSO’s reputation would be hurt by losing its year-round status, and that the group has already made sacrifices both in their ranks and pay scale. Their contract expired in January, but performances continued on under the terms of the old agreement.

Last Sunday, management approved a lockout as talks on a new deal fizzled. Dozens of players stood outside the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall the very next day to protest the move.

Baltimore Sun investigation into the orchestra’s finances found that the organization was due to finish this fiscal year at a $1.5 million deficit. An audit to determine if the BSO is a “going concern” is due out soon.

Responding to the ongoing labor dispute, the General Assembly in May passed a bill, sponsored by Baltimore Del. Maggie McIntosh, to extend $1.6 million to help the orchestra. One of the conditions was that the two sides form a work group to devise a sustainable path forward.

But Gov. Larry Hogan has not yet released the funds, and indicated he would “probably not,” pointing to numerous state contributions the BSO already receives.

This story has been updated.

Brandon Weigel

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