The Saturday start of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra season appears in doubt after musicians voted down two proposals that could have ended a months-long contract dispute.
The season is scheduled to begin this weekend but Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the Musicians Players Committee, said time constraints may force a delay.
“This could be resolved in a day,” said Prechtl.
“We really thought we were going to get an agreement,” he added.
The musicians voted down two options offered by management. Prechtl did not release the vote totals but called the results “overwhelming.”
Peter Kjome, president and CEO of the orchestra, said, “We urge our musicians to come back to work. To see the stage set today and ready for rehearsal but not have our musicians was devastating for all of us.”
The two options, according to Kjome, included allowing the musicians to return to the stage under the previous contract salary and benefits for the rest of 2019.
The second proposal called on musicians to work a 40-week season, down from 52, with the balance of the salary made up by donations of about $1 million, said Kjome.
Kjome said he remains optimistic that the season can still start on time. The musicians have yet to provide a formal notice of a strike. So far, there are no additional negotiations scheduled.
Prechtl characterized the divide between musicians and management as “more ideological” than about money. Of concern to musicians is a proposal to reduce the season to 40 weeks, eliminating about 20% of the orchestra’s schedule and 20% of the salary of the musicians.
The vote is the latest development in months of sometimes acrimonious negotiations that at one point resulted in the musicians being locked out by management. Earlier this week, musicians filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming management failed to bargain in good faith when it locked musicians out in June.
Management and musicians have met, sometimes in smaller informal groups, more than a half dozen times as the Sept. 14 start of the season approached.
Both sides also met as part of a legislative work group meant to help both sides resolve ongoing financial issues to preserve the 103-year-old cultural institution.
It was clear in that meeting that both sides were distrustful of each other, as former Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, chair of the work group, and Fred Lazarus, the former president of the Maryland Institute College of Art, attempted to encourage a temporary reconciliation that would put the orchestra’s best marketing tool — musicians — back on stage in an attempt to encourage donations.
“The intensity of the negotiations is reflective of the importance of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,” said Kjome.
Prechtl said donations have been coming in of late. He said he believes there is enough money to put musicians back on stage for the season.
The work group is part of 2019 legislation that was also meant to provide $1.6 million in emergency funding to the cash-strapped orchestra.
Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this year said he was withholding that funding along with hundreds of millions in other funds fenced off by the General Assembly. At the time, the governor called on the orchestra to get its financial house in order.
Kasemeyer, in an interview prior to the vote, said that a second meeting of the work group has not yet been scheduled but that he remained optimistic a second meeting and scheduled start of the season could still happen.
“I’m hopeful,” said Kasemeyer.
Prechtl said he is also hopeful the season could start on time, but he acknowledged the clock is running.
Musicians would have to have a contract for at least 24 hours before a ratification vote, meaning both sides would have to come to an agreement by late Thursday or perhaps early Friday.
“We professional musicians,” said Prechtl. “We can put ourselves on stage and perform in a moment’s notice.”