BSO musicians reject contract offer, jeopardizing season opening; no further talks scheduled

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians voted to reject a pair of contract proposals that would have returned them to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to open the 2019-20 season this weekend — but at the expense of summer concerts and likely facing a hefty future pay cut, according to Brian Prechtl and Greg Mulligan, co-chairmen of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians Players Committee.


The musicians’ vote to reject what the union spokesmen called "take it or leave it” contract options proposed by management was taken by electronic ballot Tuesday night and announced Wednesday afternoon.

The vote means that the work stoppage will continue and that the opening of the season, which had been set for Saturday, likely will be postponed.


Prechtl described the vote result as “overwhelmingly” against both contract options proposed by the BSO’s management, but said the musicians weren’t releasing the vote totals.

No further negotiations have been scheduled, he said.

“We thought we would reach an agreement on Monday,” Prechtl said. “I believe this is something that could be worked out in a single afternoon if that’s what management wanted to do.”

But the musicians’ decision not to return to work could cause the BSO to start losing money if it is forced to start scrapping concerts.

Peter Kjome, the BSO’s president and CEO, said earlier this week that the symphony will not attempt to hire replacement musicians. Instead, he said, performances will be canceled.

“Today the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra through the Musicians’ Association, Local 40-543, indicated to the Baltimore Symphony that they have voted to reject both option number 1 and option number 2 of the recent proposal,” he wrote in an email.

“This morning, the lights were on and the stage was empty, and we were greatly disappointed that our musicians did not show up for the first rehearsal. We’re offering work and urge our musicians to come back to work so that we can open the season this weekend.”

The musicians have been working without a contract since January, and most have not been paid since June 14.


The first option of the deal the musicians rejected was for a one-year contract that would have expired Aug. 31, 2020.

It included three components: full-time pay during the 40-week season, a small stipend for the 12 weeks they weren’t performing, and each player’s share of $1 million donated by a group of civic leaders to supplement the income they would lose during the summers. The money was promised, Prechtl said, on the condition that it be used for musician salaries and to secure a new contract.

The result is that the musicians would have been paid approximately as much under the rejected offer as they received under the recently expired bargaining agreement. (The musicians’ base pay for the 2018-19 season was $82,742.)

That might sound appealing at first glance. But Prechtl said there was no guarantee that after the first year management wouldn’t seek to impose a 40-week season and base pay of $70,600, or about 15 percent less than the musicians were paid last year.

The second option would have extended the expired contract through Dec. 31, in the hope of hammering out a long-term agreement over the next four months.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the deadlock will have a “long-term impact on the symphony."


“It’s a real detriment for both the symphony and the city that we can’t get this resolved in ways that make sense,” said McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat. “I know a lot of people in the private sector that are big supporters of the symphony want to find a solution to this that doesn’t penalize the players. I hope we go back to the drawing board very quickly and figure this out for the sake of the symphony and the city.”

The musicians vote’ wasn’t unexpected.

They signaled their intentions Tuesday that they planned to keep fighting when they filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the BSO with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint alleges that the BSO has failed to bargain in good faith as required by federal law by locking the musicians out of the Meyerhoff on June 17.

The lockout had the effect of imposing management’s most controversial demand, according to the complaint: that the season be shortened from 52 weeks to 40. Prechtl has said that players lost about $2 million in wages over the summer.

Kjome has denied the complaint’s claims and noted that the lockout was lifted Monday.

“The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is committed to continuing to bargain in good faith with our musicians and we hope that we can come to a resolution soon,” he wrote in an email Tuesday.


The musicians’ decision prolongs a crisis that erupted May 30, when the BSO abruptly canceled its summer season upon learning that it was unlikely to receive $1.6 million in promised state funding.

Legislation sponsored by McIntosh would have provided $3.2 million in additional state aid to the BSO over two years. But Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, announced that he was withholding the first year’s allocation, citing concerns that the state could soon face a $961 million budget shortfall.

“Just like that, the governor could solve this problem temporarily by releasing that money,” Prechtl said. “We would be back at work this week. I can guarantee it.”

Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said it is Hogan’s policy not to comment on labor disputes.

McIntosh said she believes the governor would be open to the state providing more funding for the BSO if there is a long-term plan in place to fix finances of the organization, which has been operating at a loss for several years. She cited an example in 2017 when the governor authorized additional money for public schools after seeing a strong financial plan from the Baltimore school system.

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“If we could have some resolution of how we work ourselves out of this deficit situation, I think the governor would be much more willing to provide the funding that our bill provided,” McIntosh said. “Until there is a long-term solution and plan in place, the governor is probably not going to help.”


McIntosh’s legislation also provided for the creation of a task force to devise ways to stem what Kjome has said are $16 million in deficits incurred by the BSO during the past decade. An audit released earlier this summer raised doubts that the cash-strapped organization could remain in business for one more year.

The chairman of the work group, former state Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, and Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

Though the Meyerhoff might be dark Saturday, the musicians are planning to make music across town. The players have planned a “celebration of Baltimore” concert at 4 p.m. at New Shiloh Baptist Church that will be free and open to the public.

Marin Alsop, the BSO’s music director, will take the podium. U.S. Rep Elijah Cummings and City Council President Brandon Scott, both Democrats, are scheduled to make remarks, Prechtl said. The musicians will perform works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and a selection of gospels and spirituals. Tony Award-winning actor Brian Stokes Mitchell also is scheduled to perform.

“The musicians of the BSO have historically sacrificed to build the orchestra that we have now,” said Jane Marvine, chairwoman of the committee representing the musicians in contract talks. “What should not be discounted in the willingness of the musicians to find a path forward. We will continue to sacrifice to preserve the institution that we have built.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.