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.
Given 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?