Dispute between ticket sellers and concert hall forces Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to move performances

An ongoing labor dispute between the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, Maryland, and its ticket office workers, represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Treasurers and Ticket Sellers Local 868 (IATSE 868), has forced the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) to move five of its season opening concerts to September and October. An August strike ratification vote from organized workers in the local, which represents treasurers and ticket sellers in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, passed unanimously.

Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Local 868’s strike vote is part of a massive wave of working class discontent with the immense exploitation it has been subjected to for decades, which the COVID-19 pandemic has not made that intensify. Thirty-six IATSE locals – 13 on the west coast, 23 in the rest of the country, collectively representing 60,000 members – voted 98.6% to authorize a strike this week. Workers on entertainment teams oppose intolerable working conditions, including 12-hour shifts, which overload them and put them at risk of catching COVID-19.

Washington DC Kennedy Center machinists on Thursday voted in favor of a strike against what IATSE Local 22 representatives called “drastic cuts and changes to working conditions,” which they said they amounted to a 40% pay cut.

Strathmore ticket sellers have been working without a contract for over two years. IATSE Local 868 has been at odds with Strathmore since May, when the venue offered to use ticket kiosks in the concert hall. The local was concerned that the machines could replace ticket vendors despite assurances from Strathmore CEO Monica Jeffries Hazangeles that the kiosks would simply act as a contactless option for spectators with health concerns related to the pandemic.

In a press release dated September 24, the BSO said the venue change was made to allow time for negotiations between Strathmore and IATSE 868, as well as an annual license agreement for performances in the 2021 season. 2022 in Strathmore. Tonya McBride Robles, vice president and chief operating officer of BSO, said that although BSO was “willing to be flexible” with regard to the agreement, it “cannot accept changes to our license agreement. that force the BSO to force our machinists and musicians to cross a picket line and work with replacement workers.

Strathmore laid off 19 workers in July 2020 due to financial hardship during the pandemic; they had since been brought back “as needed,” according to a May article in Bethesda magazine. Hazangeles noted in the article that, even before the pandemic, 85% of ticket sales were made online.

Anne Vantine, the sales agent for IATSE 868, disagreed with Hazangeles’ assurances, stating: that we can serve customers. Because we believe human interaction is important. And these people who come to buy tickets do not come to use a machine.

The dispute between the venue and the IATSE amounts to a dispute over whether ATMs or ATMs are best suited to the effort to reopen all venues in pursuit of catastrophic “immunity” policies. collective ”of the capitalist class, which have been universally aided and encouraged by trade. union bureaucracies wherever they are. In the conditions of a raging pandemic that has killed more than 10,000 people in Maryland alone, the BSO has operated through the most difficult months of 2021.

The BSO has been hit hard by the pandemic, which has forced the cancellation and rescheduling of indoor concerts, although no musicians have been reported to have tested positive for the virus. The BSO received $ 484,256 in pandemic financial assistance in January 2021 under the Maryland State Relief Act of 2021. This crisis was only intensified by the pandemic, the president -Director General of the BSO, Peter Kjome, declaring to the Baltimore Sun in January that the orchestra’s budget was “still fragile”.

While BSO’s management seemed concerned about “undermining” Strathmore’s ticket sellers, it was more for fear of a side strike with its musicians. BSO musicians, affiliated with Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM), were at the center of a contract dispute and strike against BSO management in 2019 when the musicians were locked out in May following a management decision to cancel their summer concerts.

The strike ended in 2019 with musicians forced to accept most of the management’s demands. At the time, BSO’s management cited $ 16 million in lost revenue to justify its cuts such as, among other things, shortening the season from 12 weeks and cutting vacations from nine weeks to four. In August of last year, a new five-year contract was announced. compensate for the cut. The summer concerts have not resumed since.

Notably, Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians Players’ Committee, did not comment to the press regarding the Strathmore-IATSE 868 dispute. In August 2020, Prechtl had said the musicians “are so happy” with their new contract. barebones.

The ticket vendor struggle is part of a larger working class struggle that brings together auto workers, teachers, coal miners, carpenters and food industry workers in simultaneous opposition to diktats of company management. The artistic and cultural life of the past decades, however, has taken repeated hits as conductors, not just in Baltimore, have imposed drastic salary cuts on its musicians, citing millions of dollars in losses as the reason. COVID-19 has only exacerbated this problem as concerts are canceled. The people who help run concert halls are just as affected by these cuts.

Strathmore ticket vendors must form grassroots committees to link their struggles with those of other workers across the country and the world. A special appeal should be made to workers in theatrical and film production teams currently fighting against the Alliance of Film and Television Producers (AMPTP). Despite the immense power associated with a bi-coastal struggle of workers in the entertainment industry, IATSE Local 868 made no effort to seek help from its West Coast affiliates.

In the meantime, the call must once again be made for these sites to remain closed while a deadly pandemic is still here. Full income should be given to those ticket sellers, musicians and others who help make the theatrical experience. Basically, workers must lead their struggles against the capitalist system, which forces them to choose between their livelihood and their life amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We encourage ticket sellers to write to World Socialist Website to speak out on their struggle and to register and attend the WSWS October 24 online event, “How to End the Pandemic: The Case for Eradication”.

About John Villalpando

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