On the Picket Line

Baltimore Symphony musicians protest lockout, moves to cut pay

By Arlene Rubinstein
August 5, 2019

BALTIMORE — Chanting “Step up, step down, Baltimore’s a union town,” and “If we can’t make the music, we can make some noise,” Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians, members of Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians, and their supporters picketed outside the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, July 11. 

Claiming they were broke, management canceled the summer concert series May 30, locked the musicians out June 16, and is proposing a 20% wage cut.  

The union members had intended to wrap up picketing in June, but “we are having too much fun banging on buckets and metal bowls, yelling chants, and asking people to honk their horns,” said Mary Plaine, the local’s secretary-treasurer, on the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO website. 

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra members played in a public protest when the police killing of Freddie Gray sparked outrage here and around the country in 2015. After some protesters and youth exploded in anger, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and called in 2,000 National Guard troops to help Baltimore’s 3,000-strong police force to enforce a nighttime curfew. 

The musicians responded by playing music downtown. “A city under a curfew like that reminded me of when the U.S. descended on Iraq. So many times we think, ‘We should have done something.’ So I called everybody, and we organized it,” oboist Michael Lisicky told the Militant  at the picket. 

The free performance was an important act in defense of the right to protest.