Chicago Symphony faces strike from March 10

Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have voted to authorise a strike on March 10 unless they have a new pay agreement by that date.

Their statement:

Chicago – (February 14, 2019) – After 11 months of bargaining for a new labor agreement, the
musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) have voted to authorize a strike on March 10 if
negotiations fail to achieve an agreement. At a mid-day press conference at Orchestra Hall, representatives of the musicians said they hoped not to strike, but would, if necessary, to protect the health of both individual musicians and the orchestra itself.

Long considered to be the nation’s finest orchestra, able to attract and retain superb musicians, over the past decade the musicians have seen their compensation and benefits stagnate, while their schedules increased and working conditions deteriorated. Over the same period, the musicians stated, competing orchestral associations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston increased their musicians’ wages and benefits relative to Chicago.

“We want a fair and competitive contract that will ensure the excellence and sustainability of one of the world’s great orchestras for years to come,” said Stephen Lester, symphony bassist and chair of the negotiating committee.

“With the CSO maintaining stable revenues, ticket sales, and donations, management’s attempt to squeeze the orchestra by ending our defined benefit pension plan, raising health care costs, and stagnating wages is both an insult to each of us and a danger to the reputation and viability of the institution itself,” says Gina DiBello, violinist.

Percussionist Cynthia Yeh adds: “Management is trying to squeeze us to pay their bond debt for a rehab of Symphony Center costing more than $100 million. We know that when people refer to the CSO they mean the musicians, our Maestro Riccardo Muti, and the music – not the building, however lovely it is. And it is this, the music and musicians, the heart of the CSO, that we are willing to strike to protect.”

“The overwhelming vote to strike was driven by management’s insistence on reducing benefits and offering inadequate compensation,” added Lester. In fact, the past year marked the Orchestra’s best year ever in ticket sales, with nearly 350,000 tickets sold, representing more than $23 million in
revenue.

After returning last week from a successful three-week tour of Asia, performances will resume this week. Negotiations with management have also resumed for a new three-year contract. The CSO
labor contract with the Chicago Federation of Musicians, which expired September 17, 2018, was
extended to March 10, 2019 in order to facilitate discussions and further explore the musicians’ retirement needs. If no agreement is reached by March 10, performances will be suspended and the
Orchestra’s 100 Chicago musicians will walk out.

Negotiation sessions are scheduled through the March 10 deadline. Though the parties remain far apart, the Chicago Symphony musicians remain ready and willing to work with management to reach
an agreement to ensure the sustainability and long-term success of one the world’s greatest
orchestras.

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  • Good luck to the musicians but they have lost all sense of reality and how hard most Chicagoans work to make a middle class living with 2 weeks off a year.

    • That may be, but they are hardly the only world-class performers in their chosen field in Chicago.
      If you look at comparably placed lawyers, bankers, doctors, architects, etc. in the Chicago area you will almost certainly find that they also make a living that is far more lucrative than most Chicagoans enjoy.

    • My friend, “most” is a word that doesn’t apply to these musicians in the same way that “most” doesn’t apply to the Chicago Bulls. These are elite musicians in one of the best orchestras in the world. They are not “middle class” or even “normal”.

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