Contract agreement is music to the ears of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians
Musicians Union members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, August 16. | Facebook

BALTIMORE (PAI)—Ending a months-long lockout by their bosses, the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the BSO management agreed on a one-year contract, Musicians Local 40-543 and orchestra managers announced Sept. 23.

The musicians returned to work the weekend of Sept. 27-28, but they won’t get paid for another two weeks, a tweet from the union pointed out. The musicians lost at least $20,000 in pay each when the BSO management canceled the 12-week summer season.

The new pact apparently reduces the 2019-20 season to 40 weeks from 52, but management added $1.6 million in a bonus distributed among all the musicians to offset the coming losses from lack of concerts. Regular weekly pay would rise by 2.4%. Managers also promised to hire more musicians.

And, given past financial problems which the BSO board refused to address, musicians won a major goal with a joint labor-management “vision committee” to study and produce proposals for the BSO’s future. That panel will work with a similar Maryland government panel since the state kicks in $3 million every two years for the orchestra.

During the lockout, the musicians raised $1 million from donors. “We want to express appreciation from the bottom of our hearts to these donors for their unwavering commitment,” the musicians said on Facebook. “It is incredibly disheartening that BSO leadership would fail to embrace this offer of help from some of Baltimore’s leading philanthropists.”

BSO management called the standoff a strike, but it really locked the orchestra out. “Yes, that was our position. Thankfully it is now in the rearview mirror. This will be a triumphant return to the stage for us this weekend,” Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the musicians’ bargaining committee, e-mailed.

The BSO lockout was just the latest in a string of confrontations which have bedeviled union members at major U.S. orchestras. All have a common theme of management demanding mass givebacks – pay cuts, firing players, health care cuts, and so on – after orchestra boards failed in their top responsibility, fundraising. Lockouts and forced strikes occurred within the last several years in Chicago – at both the Chicago Symphony and the Lyric Opera – Philadelphia, Houston, Pittsburgh and the Twin Cities, among others.

BSO’s one-year pact also continues a comprehensive year-round package of medical, dental, vision, life, long-term disability, and instrument insurance. “Musicians and management will jointly address the expected increase in health insurance premiums on Jan. 1, 2020, with a possible modest increase that would be borne by both the musicians and the BSO,” they said.

BSO management also agreed on no further lockouts for the year. A joint labor-management committee will tackle work rule issues within the next two months. The union agreed not to strike for the year and it is dropping labor law-breaking charges it filed against management, particularly the board.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.