The Baltimore Symphony locked out its musicians as of 12:01 AM on Monday, June 17th.
If you’re fuzzy as to the definition of a lockout (as I was seven [!] years ago when I first started writing about orchestral labor disputes), here’s the dictionary definition.
A lockout is:
the withholding of employment by an employer and the whole or partial closing of the business establishment in order to gain concessions from or resist demands of employeesMerriam Webster dictionary
I want to preface the rest of this with my opinion. To my mind, a lockout is the most horrifying, corrosive form of labor dispute. It does not pave the way to a stronger, healthier organization. It is symptomatic of breakdown. Thought of charitably, it is an admission of failure: a confession of incompetence. Thought of less charitably, it is a form of arson meant to quickly transform an organization, or to score political or social points.
That interpretation rings especially true when a lockout happens at an orchestra. An orchestra’s reason for being isn’t to make money, but rather to improve the lives of citizens. The music is the product. Therefore, you cannot lock out an orchestra without simultaneously locking out audiences, the entire justification for the organization’s existence. This simple fact makes orchestral lockouts especially serious and grave.
Because a lockout is such an unspeakably extreme last resort, it is the responsibility of any management team to broadcast the severity of the situation calmly and consistently over a period of years, and then, more importantly, to respect stakeholders and to search tirelessly for equal partners to help fix problems with.
Based on the facts currently in the public domain, that is not the path that the Baltimore Symphony chose to follow. They’ve snubbed the (to my eyes) reasonable requests of Save Our BSO, a group of audience advocates, and many of the Baltimore musicians found out about the upcoming lockout via social media rather than in-person. Obviously, these stakeholders are not being respected and treated as the equal partners that they are.
On June 14th, the Baltimore Sun ran an article with a hugely alarming headline: The BSO’s financial situation was much worse than most people realized, documents and interviews reveal.
The lede is an indictment in and of itself:
Until the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra canceled its summer season, few people outside the nonprofit’s administrative offices realized just how precarious its financial situation was.
Well, um. I guess this blog entry is over, then, right? Honestly, that information is all the information we need to know. It’s strike one. Based on that fact alone, the current leadership is either inept, unfit, or untrustworthy (or all three). Before they reached the cliff, they were apparently unaware of what was going down financially (how?) or unwilling to build bridges with stakeholders to problem-solve (why not?). To my mind, both possibilities are disqualifying, and they signal a need for resignations. Honestly, the Sparknotes version of this entry ends here.
But in case you want to keep going…Continue reading