John C. Merrill Act
Baltimore Symphony musicians have been playing without a contract since January 16, 2019. In this context, the passage of Maryland House bill 1404, introduced by the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, Delegate Maggie McIntosh, providing $1.6 million in each of the next two fiscal years, was most welcome. In addition to providing additional funding for two years, the bill would establish an official work group comprised of a state appointed leader as well as representatives from the BSO board, management, and musicians to examine the “structural efficiencies of the BSO, including health care costs, cost containment strategies and audience development, including methods to diversify access and increased statewide public participation” in BSO offerings. Governor Hogan allowed the bill to become law without his signature on May 28.
Over the course of about two months this past winter, BSO musicians led an effort (which the staff and board eventually joined) meeting with Maryland legislators, the mayor of Baltimore and Baltimore city council members in order to enlist their assistance. Councilman Eric Costello introduced a resolution that passed the city council on February 25, calling on legislators to restore “pre-recession funding levels” to the BSO. On April 8, the bill, named the John C. Merrill Act in honor of a valued member of the BSO who had just passed away, was passed by both the Maryland Senate and House. The success of the initiative was not only the result of the musicians’ efforts, but also thanks to advice from Randy Whatley of the Cypress Media Group and the robust support of BSO patrons, donors, and friends. These supporters, including several prominent Marylanders, contacted city council members, the mayor, the governor, and Maryland legislators both in the house and the senate.
New Initiative in New Jersey
In 2016, the NJSO began formulating a new Diversity-Equity-Inclusion initiative, which will launch a new Fellowship Program this fall as the result of an anonymous five-year $1 million challenge grant. The proposed program was the subject of a contract re-opener, with lengthy negotiations. The Orchestra Committee/Union largely succeeded in bargaining language maximizing chances of success for the venture, as well as ensuring protections for contracted, extra, substitute, and fellows musicians. Management apparently aspires to consider all these categories of players as interchangeable widgets; the largest effort by the Union at the bargaining table was to disabuse the Symphony of that notion.
The management recently hosted a meeting with musicians to introduce their newly hired HR consultant, who outlined his role in the organization. He was retained in response to personnel disputes arising in the last two years. Future meetings will discuss an evolving sexual harassment and bullying policy.
The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, of which NJSO is the major tenant, has been awarded a $20 million grant to build a new educational outreach center adjacent to the PAC. No word yet how this might affect NJSO’s numerous educational and community outreach programs, which include M.A.N.Y—an instrumental and ensemble instruction collaborative venture with NJPAC targeting inner-city youth.