Where Things Stand In Baltimore

Last week, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) labor situation exploded into a full-blown lockout. Since that happened smack in the middle of the orchestra compensation reports week, we have had to wait until today to conduct an overview.

At the same time, it would have been wonderful for all involved if the BSO managed to resolve the dispute during the interim but based on where things are today, it’s clear that would have been a long shot. Consequently, let’s get up to speed.

This Is A Lockout, Not A Strike

In the realm of labor law, work stoppages are either strikes and lockouts.

  • Strikes are initiated by the employees and is when the workers cease work during a labor dispute.
  • Lockouts are initiated by the employer and is a denial of employment during a labor dispute.

For more information:

Understanding The Difference Between A Strike And A Lockout

The Employer Opted For An Aggressive Approach

Adaptistration People 130While work stoppages by their nature are an aggressive course of action, they still have varying degrees of severity. For an example of something on the stronger end of scale, the employees may give only a few hours’ notice before walking out on strike, such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians did in 2015 hours before their opening concert.

If you’re the employer, you have a few more options at your disposal, one of which is not only withholding payments but going so far as to cancel health care benefits at the onset of the lockout. For perspective, employers can roll out financial pressure in piecemeal fashion. Typically, it begins with just salary payments and then extends to health insurance but even then, the latter used to be one of the very last-ditch tactics used by employers.

One reason why is because of the difficult questions surrounding what to do if any musicians are currently receiving life saving care. This scenario became a hallmark of negative PR for the employer during the St. Louis Symphony work stoppage in 2005.

In that case, one of the musicians at the time, violist Christian Woehr, was in the hospital recovering from open heart surgery when he received word that his health insurance was going away. This did not play out well in the court of public opinion.

Nonetheless, the BSO decided to adopt this tactic out of the gate when they informed musicians on June 16, 2019 that their health insurance will be terminated after the end of that month and long term disability coverage was cancelled on June 17, 2019.

Little To No Progress

For now, both sides are continuing to schedule mediated bargaining sessions. According to the musicians, the BSO has not modified their offer since the last, best, and final version the musicians already rejected.

The BSO has neither confirmed nor denied that claim but they did acknowledge the musicians provided modified terms during recent bargaining sessions. Details on those terms or reasons why the BSO characterized them as less than meaningful were not provided.

Moving Forward

On the surface, the BSO dispute is shaping up to have the potential for becoming a long, drawn out affair, not unlike work stoppages from Detroit in 2010/11 and Minnesota in 2012/13/14. If it continues moving in that direction, you can rest assure we’ll begin examining details in similar fashion.

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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