Things Get Weird In Baltimore

When the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) initiated a lockout of musician employees in June 2019, they also announced health care benefits would be cancelled at the end of the month. Not even two weeks later, the BSO’s executive leadership announced that while they intend to maintain the lockout throughout the course of the summer, they are rescinding their decision to cancel health insurance.

In an article from 6/25/2019, we examined the decision to cancel health insurance at the onset of a work stoppage and how it can be seen as a particularly aggressive bargaining posture within the historical context of the professional orchestra field.

While the BSO’s decision to back away from such a hostile tactic can be seen as a positive development, it becomes less clear thanks to all of the related mixed messages.

In addition to announcing the decision not to cancel health insurance, the BSO indicated their lockout has an expiration date. BSO president and CEO Peter Kjome was quoted in the 5/27/19 edition of The Baltimore Sun saying the expiration date coincided with the beginning of the 2019/20 season.

“If an agreement has not been reached by Sunday, September 8, 2019, the BSO will terminate the lockout on Monday, September 9, 2019,” Kjome wrote.

This is where things get weird.

Kjome apparently expects concert activity to resume in September regardless if both parties reach an agreement.

Adaptistration People 140Given that a key element in the BSO’s existing proposal includes eliminating the summer season and its associated labor costs, it’s difficult to miss the BSO perceiving lockouts as nothing more than a piggy bank that can be cracked open whenever cash flows are tight. The musicians can either accept it via contractual terms and if not, too bad, the employer will simply impose the cuts.

Simply put: how are negotiations expected to move forward with an expectation to bargain in good faith if you know the other side is willing to initiate a work stoppage as a means to an end regardless of bargaining?

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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