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Negotiations between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra management and the musicians’ union ended Friday afternoon.
Negotiations between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra management and the musicians’ union ended Friday afternoon. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

The first negotiating session between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s management and the musicians’ union ended Friday afternoon with what a co-chair of the Players Committee described as “backwards progress.”

During the three-hour bargaining session, the 75 musicians learned that their long-term disability insurance had been cancelled as of last Friday, according to Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the Players Committee. In addition, the musicians will lose their life insurance on Sept. 1 if they don’t reach a contract before then. Their medical insurance expires July 1.

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“It wasn’t just that there was no progress,” Prechtl said. “There actually was backwards progress. Losing our long-term disability disability coverage is egregious and unconscionable.”

Friday’s session was attended by mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service; both sides say they are working to schedule additional negotiating sessions.

Peter Kjome, the BSO’s president and CEO, acknowledged that there was “no significant progress in today’s meeting.”

“We remain disappointed that there has been no meaningful counter-proposal that addresses the urgent financial issues our organization is facing since negotiations began last year” Kjome said. “If the BSO is going to survive, our business model needs to change. We will continue to work with our musicians as we navigate this change and prepare for a future that is strong and vibrant.”

Negotiations aimed at resolving the impasse between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its musicians are quietly going on behind the scenes.

The dispute began last fall, when symphony management proposed shortening the season from 52 weeks to 40 weeks — a reduction that the musicians claimed would demote the BSO from a “world-class symphony orchestra to a part-time regional orchestra.” The musicians worked without a contract from January through mid-June.

For several months, it appeared that the looming crisis would be averted. The Maryland General Assembly approved a bill to provide an additional $3.2 million to the beleaguered organization for the next two fiscal years.

But Gov. Larry Hogan said it’s unlikely he will release those funds. Sunday night, the orchestra’s board of directors announced it was locking out the 75 musicians, citing a financial crisis that has resulted in $16 million in losses over the past decade.

Most musicians received their final paycheck on June 14.

The players’ plight inspired music lover Tee Mitchell to begin a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for food for the musicians for the duration of the lockout. Mitchell wrote on the fundraiser’s GoFundMe page that she also has approached local restaurants and asked them to offer the musicians free or discounted food. Most replied positively, she said.

Initially, the campaign sought to raise $2,000. By Friday afternoon, it had collected $3,150.

“It’s such a nice gesture,” Prechtl said. ‘We’re incredibly touched.”

He added that donations to support the players also are being collected through the musicians’ webpage.

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