2021 | News

UPDATED: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra cancels five Strathmore performances

Strathmore says it has put forth a contract proposal for three full-time, 10 part-time ticket sellers

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Members of IATSE Local 868, a union that represents ticket sellers, protest at Strathmore Music Center on Wednesday.

Photo by Dan Schere

This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 24, 2021, to include additional information about other performances scheduled for Strathmore that have been canceled 

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO), one of the founding partners of the Music Center at Strathmore, has canceled five of its performances at the North Bethesda performance center, scheduled over the next three weeks.

The cancellations come amidst an ongoing stalemate between Strathmore’s management and a union that represents ticket sellers there.

Strathmore laid off 19 ticket office workers in July 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 868, a union that represents the Strathmore ticket sellers, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board following the layoffs.

The arts center has gradually been bringing back the laid off workers, CEO Monica Jeffries Hazangeles told Bethesda Beat in May.

Strathmore announced on Sept. 16 that it had made a final proposal in the union negotiations of having three full-time and 10 part-time ticket sellers. Discussions between the parties, however, remain at an impasse.

On Friday, the BSO announced that the performance “Imani Winds,” scheduled for Oct. 10 at Strathmore, will instead take place that day at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, where the symphony normally performs.

Additionally, the performances of “Off the Cuff: Phenomenal Women” and “Celebrating John Williams,” scheduled for Oct. 8 and 14, respectively, have been canceled outright.

The BSO announced last week that it would be canceling its performances at Strathmore on Sept. 25 and Oct. 2, and that they would instead take place at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The changes are due to the ongoing negotiations between Strathmore management and the IATSE, with the hope that the stalemate will eventually be resolved. The BSO must also finalize its annual license agreement for the upcoming performance season because of unionized musicians and stagehands that are part of the group.

BSO Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tonya McBride Robles wrote in the statement that the group moved the performances from Strathmore because it did not want to put any musicians or crew members “in a position of deciding whether to cross a picket line.”

“As a founding partner, we are committed to continuing collaborative conversations with our partners at Strathmore in good faith as we navigate this situation together, and to making it as easy as possible for our Strathmore ticket holders to enjoy these concerts at the Meyerhoff or on-demand thanks to our new livestream capabilities,” Robles said in the statement.

The Washington Post previously reported on the BSO’s cancellation of the Strathmore shows last week.

In a statement to Bethesda Beat on Wednesday, Robles explained that the BSO reserves its performance dates at Strathmore two years in advance and signs an annual license agreement that outlines the financial and legal terms for concerns.

“Simply, we do not wish to put our musicians and crew in a position of deciding whether to cross a picket line nor can we enter in a revised license agreement that inserts new language and places the full financial burden of concert cancellations directly resulting from potential strike action by Strathmore’s bargained units on the BSO’s shoulders,” she said in the statement.

On Sept. 17, Strathmore posted a statement on its website that the BSO, despite canceling its performances, still had to pay Strathmore.

“As a Founding Partner of the Music Center, the BSO is allowed to reserve dates two years in advance, removing them from rentable inventory that would otherwise be available to other community presenters,” the statement read.

Strathmore’s statement acknowledged that the BSO has a “right to make such a choice” but that “the orchestra should not expect Strathmore to pay for that choice when the concert hall is available for the BSO’s performances.”

Before a performance at Strathmore Wednesday evening, members of IATSE Local 868 protested in the covered bridge area connecting the building to the parking garage, holding signs with messages such as “Strathmore you don’t fill seats by being cheats” and “ticket office workers want to work.”

Anne Vantine, the business agent for the union, told Bethesda Beat that they are grateful for the BSO’s decision to move the two performances from Strathmore.

“They did not want to put them in a position of having to decide whether to cross the picket line when we go on strike. Because we have strike authorization we can go on strike. And if we did that …. their musicians and stagehands will be put in an awkward position of having to say ‘I’m not crossing that picket line,’” she said.

Vantine said on Wednesday that IATSE Local 868 has not gone on strike yet, but is conducting “informational picketing” to raise public awareness about the negotiations. A strike would be a “last resort,” she said.

“But Strathmore has taken us … they’re taking us to that point where we don’t see another way out. And we’ll continue to hope for better and we’ll continue to hope that they decide that they’re willing to negotiate and compromise, and until we’re sure that they are not going to do that, at that point, it is probably when we will go on strike,” she said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com