As the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra inches ever closer to its first scheduled concert of the 2019-2020 season on Saturday, its musicians have brought their grievances with management to the National Labor Relations Board.
The musicians’ union announced Tuesday morning that it filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. According to a copy of the charge that the Players’ Committee emailed to The Baltimore Sun, the union accused the orchestra of not bargaining “in good faith regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment” during the latest round of contentious negotiations.
“Since on or about June 17, 2019, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has failed, and continues to fail, to bargain in good faith regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment with Local 40-543, AFM, the collective bargaining representative of the Musicians of BSO," according to the form. “Specifically, BSO has unlawfully locked out bargaining unit employees to effectuate unilateral implementation of terms and conditions of employment without reaching impasse. BSO has also failed and refused to provide relevant and necessary information requested by the Union in bargaining.”
Players’ Committee co-chair Brian Prechtl told The Sun that both sides appeared ready to come to an agreement during Monday’s negotiation meeting. Management’s commitment to reducing both the orchestra’s season and players’ pay by nearly 20 percent remained a sticking point, he said.
“They seemed absolutely inflexible on this point,” Prechtl said. “And we suggested, look, let’s keep talking, let’s come back to the table on Thursday, [and] they refused it, they rejected that.”
Prechtl added that the committee then proposed other compromises that he declined to specify on the record, citing possible future negotiations.
BSO president and CEO Peter Kjome, for his part, noted that the orchestra lifted the lockout on musicians as of Monday. He added in an email to The Sun that management presented two options to the musicians to resolve the situation ahead of the new season. The first is “a one-year commitment to increasing musician compensation” through specific donations that “already exceed $1 million." The other option involves extending the last agreement’s terms, “including salary and benefits,” until the end of 2019; in the meantime, the orchestra’s legislative work group and a board committee would collaborate “with musician participation” on future plans.
“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,” Kjome wrote.
Nancy Wilson, the acting regional director of the NLRB’s Baltimore office, did not immediately return The Sun’s request for comment Tuesday morning.
The musicians returned to picketing Tuesday with a silent action in which they donned all-black outfits and stood single file with instruments in hand.
“This is a solemn protest of the destructive position our leadership has committed to by choosing to impose their terms,” Prechtl wrote in a follow-up email. “This will have disastrous effects on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for decades.”
Prechtl’s fellow co-chair, Greg Mulligan, clarified via email that the union will still vote on what it termed the orchestra’s “take it or leave it” offer, which includes the aforementioned 20 percent reductions.
The BSO musicians, who are organized under Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians, are not the first orchestral musicians to file charges with the NLRB during negotiations. Michael Hayes, an associate professor of law at the University of Baltimore, pointed to examples of similar charges that AFM locals levied against orchestras over the past few years. For instance, the NLRB ruled last year that the Colorado Symphony could no longer avoid providing relevant contract information to its musicians during collective bargaining. Conversely, it dismissed Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians’ charge that its management acted in bad faith in the same year.
“The lessons from all these cases include that to actually get the NLRB to file a complaint, as much evidence as possible, and as strong as possible on both there being no impasse and that the employer has negotiated in bad faith (e.g. failed to refused to provide requested information), can make all the difference," Hayes wrote in an email to The Sun.
While involving a federal entity might seem like an extreme measure, Hayes observed that unfair labor practice filings are “fairly common when the employer has locked out the unionized employees.”
“There are a few unions that will file [unfair labor practice] charges nearly any time except at the very beginning of negotiations,” he wrote. “Most, however, will file them only when the employer locks out employees and/or the union believes the employer is about to claim there’s a bargaining impasse, which...most employers do so they can make unilateral changes in terms of employment without union consent.”
Read the full text of the charge and musicians’ accompanying statement at bsomusicians.org.