Baltimore Decides To Do Away With the Safety Net

Back in November, we examined some of the contentious negotiation points in the ongoing negotiations between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and its musicians.

Adaptistration People 011Fast forward a few months and according to a 1/15/2019 press statement from the musicians, not much has changed. The only exception being the employer has decided not to extend the written play-and-talk agreement, which extended the terms of the previous agreement for four months.

According to statements from the employer in an article by Mary Carole McCauley in the 1/16/2019 edition of The Baltimore Sun, they intend to continue “to operate under the terms of the expired agreement as negotiations continue.”

Having said that, not having a written agreement makes it easier for either party to push boundaries, although that leverage typically works in the employer’s favor.

While the musicians may continue being paid at their existing rate, the employer may decide to forego less prominent terms that still produce cost savings.

For example, let’s say the orchestra accidentally hired one too many violin substitutes for a concert series.

Most collective bargaining agreements have a minimum time frame a substitute musician can be “un-hired” without having to pay the musician. But without a written agreement in place, the employer can tell the substitute “sorry, we aren’t going to pay you even though we’re cancelling your time with us one day before the first scheduled rehearsal service.”

In that instance, the Local Union would be forced to file a grievance in order to challenge the action. The employer would likely lose and must pay the substitute, but it isn’t difficult to see where that sort of brinkmanship may appear less risky when the orchestra committee is already pinned down under increasingly tense negotiations.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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