So, in a recent Baltimore Sun article, current President and CEO Peter Kjome has asserted that management "plans to welcome the players back to work on September 9 and to pay them the wages they received under their most recent collective bargaining agreement, which expired in January 2019."
First, let's be clear: in case you haven't been paying attention, the "most recent collective bargaining agreement" actually expired on September 9, 2018 and was extended retroactively, that extension ending on January 15, 2019.
Second, yet equally as important: a few weeks ago, Mr. Kjome shared a vague statement that was basically torched by two people with a depth of experience in nonprofit arts management, orchestral governance and orchestral work conflicts.
In a Baltimore Sun article published on June 27, 2019, Mr. Kjome is quoted as saying that "If an agreement has not been reached by Sunday, September 8, 2019, the BSO will terminate the lockout on Monday, September 9, 2019. Work will be provided to bargaining unit employees beginning on that date."
"BSO offers musicians health insurance extension amid contract dispute"
Mixed with other articles, here are the responses to the current President and CEO's statement about "work being offered":
"Or Its Accredited Successor" (Mask of the Flower Prince)
"The Baltimore Symphony: Burning Gifts and Burning GIFs" (Song of the Lark)
(Side note: how fascinating to see that despite former Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson's assertion that "blogs are senseless and must be ignored", the blog entries shared were followed by immediate "message changes", including the current BSO President and CEO asserting that management "plans to welcome the players back to work on September 9 and to pay them the wages they receives under their most recent collective bargaining agreement, which expired in January.")
While Mr. Kjome's words about the end of this "lockout" could be seen as heartening, we must take a moment to look at both language ("rhetoric") and reality.
"If an agreement has not been reached"....folks, that's not how contract negotiations play out when the employees are represented by a union. We'll come back to this, though, as today's news again contained both clues to the future, yet another baffling statement from the current Baltimore Symphony Orchestra President and CEO, and a bit of clarity from Mary Plaine, current Secretary/Treasurer of Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians.
On Monday, July 22, 2019, an article published in the Baltimore Sun chronicled changes both in the date of the annual Baltimore Symphony gala and the scheduled performer.
"Citing labor dispute, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra postpones fundraising gala; Renee Fleming won't appear" (Baltimore Sun, July 22, 2019)
THAT I shall leave for you to read on your own. However, to cite a parallel it is necessary to revisit October 2010 and the early weeks of the Detroit Symphony strike (October 4, 2010-April 3, 2011).
From The Strad: "[Violinist Sarah] Chang had been due to perform as soloist with the orchestra in its season-opening concert. But after the players began strike action on 4 October, it was announced that she would instead perform a recital programme. DSO musicians, who are fighting against salary and benefit cuts (sound familiar?), wrote to Chang, pleading with her not to cross the picket line and perform. The chairman of f the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents 4,200 orchestral players in the US, did the same. Strongly worded messages were also sent to her fan-created Facebook page.
"Explaining her decision to withdraw from the recital, Chang said in a statement: 'My original intention to bring music to the community has been derailed and I have been unwillingly drawn into an inner dispute that does not appropriately involve me'."
Violinist Sarah Chang pulls out of Detroit recital (The Strad, October 9, 2010)
Regarding the delayed-yet-upcoming Baltimore Symphony gala: "The gala is the orchestra's biggest fundraiser and includes a black-tie dinner, a concert at which tickers are sold for premium prices and a post-concert reception. The previously-announced headlines, opera singer Renee Fleming, is unavailable in May, according to the release. Instead, the violinist Itzhak Perlman will be the gala's star guest artist."
So: a decision was made to postpone a gala for eight months. According to a comment posted at Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc, gala invitations were mailed out within the past two weeks, and notifications of the rescheduling and new guest artist were sent via email.
The recent Baltimore Sun article also shares the "new" plans for the season opening, plans that were also shared in the Baltimore Business Journal: "In place of the gala, the orchestra plans to host a free season preview concert on September 14 at 8pm at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall".
"BSO reschedules gala to 2020 amid contract dispute"(Baltimore Business Journal, July 22, 2019)
Of course, one cannot ignore the current BSO President and CEO's inexplicably upbeat tone in the Baltimore Sun: "He said in the release that he is 'grateful' to those who have already promised donations to the gala and added that he looks forward 'to expressing our gratitude to our community by launching our new season with free concerts featuring out extraordinary musicians'."
SO, to summarize:
1. Gala invitations were printed and mailed despite the fact that the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony have been locked out by their executive management and Board of Directors since June 17, 2019 (For the record, this has gone on now for thirty-nine days. While "summer vacation" may make this not seem real, just wait until the 2019-20 concert seasons starts)
2. Approximately eight days after invitations were mailed, an email was drafted and sent. In that email, the contract dispute is shared as the reason that the gala has been postponed until May 9, 2020. Due to scheduling, Renee Fleming is not available as previously announced, and Itzhak Perlman has been secured as the headliner.
Please understand that this date is near the END of the proposed 2019-20 season, and while the current President and CEO insists that this eight-month delay will not affect the organization's bottom line, this rescheduled gala also takes place less than three months after most arts organizations announce their upcoming concert seasons (case in point: the Baltimore Symphony's 2019-20 concert season was announced on February 22, 2019). Concert seasons are announced in late winter-early spring so that subscriptions can be sold and revenue generated.
3. Over the past thirty-nine days, the current Baltimore Symphony President and CEO has made continuously changing statements about the duration of this lockout:
- "If an agreement has not been reached by Sunday, September 8, 2019, the BSO will terminate the lockout on Monday, September 9, 2019. Work will be provided to bargaining unit employees beginning on that date."
And HERE's where we go to the quote from Mary Plaine. Remember, Ms. Plaine is the current Secretary/Treasurer of Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians.
Ms. Plaine was quoted in yesterday's Baltimore Sun article: "We certainly understand management's decision to postpone the gala....They keep telling the public the orchestra is coming back to work on September 9. But, I don't believe the orchestra will go back to work until they have a ratified contract. That's the way to hold the gala in September - end the lockout."
"But WAIT:, someone said: "Didn't the current President and CEO say that the lockout would end whether or not an agreement was reached?"
Yes, he did - but that's NOT how strikes and lockouts end, people.
During work conflicts (strikes and lockouts), contracts have to go through a RATIFICATION process, and the collective bargaining agreement ratification process is both beautifully and clearly explained via this document which was published by (of all organizations) the permanently threatened National Endowment for the Arts.
Collective Bargaining: What It Is and How It Works
Forgive me for speaking "South Carolinian", but here's the deal, y'all: As the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony are represented by Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians, any contract dealings that they have with the Board of Directors and Executive Management of the Baltimore Symphony are negotiated through what is known as COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, "Collective bargaining—a mutual exchange of positions followed by agreement—enables a group of employees with
a 'community of interest' to negotiate a binding written
contract with an employer. It gives workers a voice in their
workplace and has become a respected approach, valued by
employees and employers in the private sector and throughout various levels of government."
I shall not go into the step-by-step of collective bargaining here: as the kids say, "reading is fundamental". Everything that you need to know is contained in this NEA document. I shall simply go to THE QUESTION:
HOW, in light of locking out your musicians, which was followed by cancelling benefits, which was followed (due to public outrage) by reinstating health insurance (which expires on September 1, 2019 - and this does not take into account the cancellation of other benefits), does the Board of Directors and Executive Management of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plan to have the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra "come back to work" in September under the provisions of a previously expired contract (which was a fifty-two week employment contract) while continuing to lobby both the state government and the public to accept the "necessity" of a twelve-week contract reduction which equals a 16.6 percent pay cut, with reductions in health care benefits making executive management's proposal equal a 26.8 percent cut for a single person and 28 percent for someone with family insurance?
While I COULD speculate, I choose not to....but stay tuned...