BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Musicians with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are locked out as contract talks continue with their Board of Directors.
The board voted Sunday night, but the decision went into effect Monday morning.
The Baltimore Symphony Musicians sent WJZ a press release that said as of 12:01 a.m. Monday they will not be paid, and that their health insurance will be cut off after June 30. They claimed the artists found out about the decision with less than three weeks notice, and learned about it through social media and not directly from BSO Management.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra website stated the BSO has faced financial challenges for many years despite “intensive efforts to increase revenues and manage costs.”
Meanwhile, the musicians are asking for a two percent cost of living raise.
The orchestra’s board of directors approved the lockout after the musicians and management could not reach an agreement by the end of the regular subscription season.
The Baltimore Symphony Musicians disagreed with the decision, calling it “completely unnecessary.”
“BSO leadership points to an average $1.6 million annual shortfall in the operations of the orchestra,” the statement read. “However, what they don’t mention is that at the same time, the BSO’s endowment trust continues to grow in value. In FY17, total assets grew by $2.4 million.”
BSO said a bargaining session with the musicians earlier this month was canceled and no new date has been set.
“Due to the Baltimore Symphony’s urgent need to address longstanding financial issues and change its business model, the BSO has made this extremely difficult decision,” said President and CEO Peter Kjome in a statement. “The BSO is a beloved and important cultural anchor for Maryland and our region, and it is vital that our community is home to an exceptional orchestra for generations to come.”
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The BSO canceled its New Music Festival and three summer programs on May 30 due to lack of funds.
BSO musicians played outside the Meyerhoff on Monday, many trading instruments for picket signs.
“Pay our health care. Pay our salaries and come back to the bargaining table,” said Brian Prechtl, BSO percussionist.
In the last decade, BSO said it has lost nearly $16 million.
“We had to take action, due to the urgent financial issues that we are facing,” said Peter Kjome, BSO CEO.
Records show the BSO already got a boost from the state this year, nearly $2 million, through a Maryland State Arts Council grant.
BSO’s management has proposed shortening the season from 52 weeks to 40 weeks.
“Over the years, although we’ve had a 52-week contract, we have not had a 52-week performance season,” Kjome said.
Gov. Larry Hogan has not released the additional $1.6 million set aside for the orchestra this year.
“We continue to pour millions and millions of dollars into the BSO, but they’ve got real serious issues and problems,” Hogan said.
The governor cited erosion in the donor base and management issues.
“At the same time, we know that those additional funds are not enough to address our substantial financial challenges,” Kjome said.
Meanwhile, for musicians orchestrating car horns instead of brass horns, they call the lockout a management choice, not a necessity.
“We have pregnant people. We have people going through cancer treatment, people whose children needed surgeries. And, suddenly, all of that is threatened by this,” Prechtl said.
Musicians cite the BSO has a $70+ million endowment, but the board stresses that it’s not a “rainy day” fund and can’t be used to bridge the gap.
For now, the only sound coming from the musicians until then is from the picket line.