Chicago ups the ante on orchestra pay

Chicago ups the ante on orchestra pay


norman lebrecht

September 30, 2015

In the 1990s, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the first to offer a $100,000 starting wage, setting off an inflationary spiral across the sector.

Now the CSO has bucked the current trend of tight settlements and, in a deal brokered by federal negotiators, conceded a 5 percent pay increase over the next three years, a 4.3 percent pension rise and no cut in health benefits. That looks like win-win-win for the musicians.

We’ll leave it to others – Drew McManus? – to crunch the numbers, but two trends emerge.

First, the deal leaves Chicago musicians with pride and conditions intact but still well short of the top-paid US orchestra, which is the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Second, this could be a game changer. The musicians held close to their starting position and the new management blinked. It went to the feds before they settled. This is the third or fourth recent orchestra deal that went all the way to Washington. It’s starting to become a habit.

Official deal announcement below:

(CHICAGO)—The musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO)—members of the Chicago Federation of Musicians (CFM), Local 10-208 of the American Federation of Musicians—and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) announce the ratification of a new three-year collective bargaining agreement, effective September 14, 2015, through September 16, 2018.

The members of the CSO and the CSOA Board of Trustees voted today to accept the terms of the new contract. The agreement includes wage and pension increases and scheduling provisions that will provide more flexibility during the season and on tour.

“The city of Chicago is so very fortunate to be the home of one of the world’s great orchestras,” said Jay Henderson, Chairman of the CSOA’s Board of Trustees. “The musicians’ dedication to performing at the highest artistic level makes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra an exceptional ensemble. This new agreement recognizes the preeminence of our Orchestra while ensuring long-term financial sustainability, and we appreciate the musicians’ willingness to work constructively in this process.”

“I have the greatest admiration for the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and am pleased we have come to an agreement on a new contract,” said Jeff Alexander, president of the CSOA. “The Orchestra serves the greater Chicago community and the world with extraordinary performances, recordings, broadcasts and educational activities. It is an honor to be part of this distinguished institution, and to work on a daily basis with the members of the CSO. I look forward to continuing to work together to advance the activities of this great Orchestra.”

“The Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are pleased that an agreement for a new contract with the Association has been reached,” said Stephen Lester, chairman of the CSO Members Committee. “We are optimistic that this agreement will lay a foundation for dynamic growth and continued success into the future.”

“For many decades, the CFM and CSOA have had a productive relationship,” commented Gary Matts, president of the Chicago Federation of Musicians. “The parties have always worked diligently to reach contract agreements reflecting the status of the CSO as one of the world’s great orchestras.”

Under the terms of the newly ratified agreement, CSO musicians’ annual salary will increase by 1% in the first contract year and 2% in each of the second and third years. The pension benefit will increase by 4.3% and there will be no changes to health care plans or contributions.

Negotiations between the CSOA and the CSO Musicians’ Negotiating Committee began in July of 2015. The previous collective bargaining agreement expired on Sunday, September 13, 2015. A tentative agreement was reached on Monday, September 28, 2015, and ratified by both parties on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. A mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), Javier Ramirez, assisted the parties in the final stages of negotiations.

Throughout the contract discussions, the CSO Musicians’ Negotiating Committee was represented by Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208 President and Vice President Gary Matts and Terryl Lynn Jares, and legal counsel Kevin Case of Case Arts Law. The CSOA was represented by legal counsel Ross Eberly of DLA Piper.

The parties would like to express their gratitude to their Negotiating Committee members—for the CSO, musicians Stephen Lester, Chair of the CSO Members Committee; James Smelser, Vice Chair; Roger Cline; Robert Kassinger; and David Sanders—and for the CSOA, President Jeff Alexander, Vice Presidents Isabelle Goossen and Vanessa Moss, Kelly Cater, John Deverman and Sameed Afghani. The parties also extend special thanks to Mr. Ramirez and the FMCS.



  • Kevin Case says:

    Just to clarify: the involvement of a federal mediator is not quite as extraordinary a step as it may seem. In the U.S., parties to a collective bargaining agreement are required to notify the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) when the contract is about to expire; that gives the FMCS a chance to offer mediation services and further the federal government’s policy of preserving labor peace.

    Accordingly, the FMCS assigns a mediator to to each negotiation for which it has received notification. The parties are then free to invite the mediator (or not) to participate at any point in the process. In my experience, the majority of the time, the parties are able to obtain an agreement without assistance; but there are a significant number of negotiations that benefit greatly from the efforts of a skilled mediator, even if negotiations are cordial and a work stoppage is not exactly imminent. (Sometimes it is a good idea to just use every tool in the toolbox.)

    The new head of the FMCS, Allison Beck, has taken a personal interest in symphony orchestra negotiations – she worked on the Met negotiation last year, and spoke at the ICSOM conference last month in Philadelphia. For the recent round of negotiations in Chicago, we were fortunate to have the services of an extremely effective FMCS mediator, Javier Ramirez. Although my role is as an advocate, I very much appreciate and value the role of mediators in the process.

  • william osborne says:

    It’s interesting to compare the Berlin Philharmonic’s $39 million budget to comparable American orchestras:

    1. Los Angeles Philharmonic $97M (2011)
    2. Boston Symphony Orchestra $84M (2013)
    3. Chicago Symphony Orchestra $74M (2014)
    4. San Francisco Symphony $72M (2011)
    5. New York Philharmonic $69M (2012)
    6. Philadelphia Orchestra $46M (2011)
    7. Cleveland Orchestra $42M (2012)

    The Berlin Phil’s budget is 52% of Chicago’s, and only on 40% of the LA Phil’s.

    America has far less arts funding than in Europe, and the funding that does exist is concentrated at the top — as befits a system funded by the wealthy.

    • william osborne says:

      We might also note that Berlin has 8 full time orchestras and 3 full time opera houses. London has 5 full time orchestras and 2 full time opera houses. Similar stories for Vienna, Paris, Munich, etc. Chicago, by contrast, has only 1 full time orchestra and only a half time opera house. This paucity by international standards allows the Chicago Symphony to hog cultural funding. Essentially, the wealthy service themselves and neglect rest of the city.

  • Dave T says:

    Wonder what affect this will have on ticket prices. Actually, it doesn’t matter, CSO ticket prices are too expensive for me as they are. I’ll just end of going to one fewer concerts per year.

    • David Sanders says:

      There are good gallery seats available for tonight’s concert for $39. That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable amount to hear one of the world’s greatest orchestras.

  • John Smith says:

    Not sure why this should be celebrated. Over $100,000 seems like a rather large wage for an orchestra musician, and just means either: (i) more begging letters to support the life style of musicians who are paid considerably more than the people who go to the concerts; (ii) much more expensive tickets meaning poorer people don’t go to concerts; or (iii) fewer concerts and/or potential bankruptcy by the orchestra.