Chicago Symphony responds to musicians’ strike threat

Chicago Symphony responds to musicians’ strike threat


norman lebrecht

February 14, 2019

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) and the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), represented by the Chicago Federation of Musicians (CFM), have a long-standing working relationship. As in any negotiation, both parties are working diligently to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. The contract between the CSOA and the CFM, which was set to expire on September 16, 2018, was extended by mutual agreement to 11:59 p.m. on March 10, 2019. The Association and Union have used the extension period to explore and discuss an alternative structure for comparable musician retirement benefits, and these conversations are continuing.
We highly value and respect the musicians of the CSO, who are among the finest in the world and have been a cultural treasure for the Chicago community for more than 128 years.
The CSOA is committed to reaching consensus on an agreement that would allow the organization to remain financially sustainable long into the future, while also generously supporting the musicians and their future.
The current contract allows for a substantial compensation package, including a comprehensive health care package and retirement benefits, as well as significant allowances for paid time off.
Consistent with the quality of their musicianship, the CSO musicians enjoy a contract that is among the best in the country. CSO musicians receive:
o The highest base salary of all U.S. orchestras other than the two major West
Coast orchestras, whose musicians are paid additional compensation for living in the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, where the cost of living is much higher. (As of the 2017/18 contract year, the CSO musicians’ minimum salary was $159,016 with an average salary of more than $185,000);
o The highest seniority pay of any U.S. orchestra starting with 10 years of service;
o The most guaranteed paid time off of any orchestra in the U.S. (12 weeks per
year, with additional time off each summer), and the lowest per-week rehearsal and concert service requirements;
o More available sabbatical time than any other U.S. orchestra;
o A generous medical benefits package with low co-pays, deductibles and out of
pocket maximums, and a premium contribution that covers only a small portion of the total cost of their health care.
Even though CSO musicians have one of the best contracts in the industry, the CSOA is not asking for a concessionary agreement. In spite of the fact that the CSOA has been experiencing annual operating deficits for several years, the Association has already offered an improvement in wages and working conditions, and will continue to offer a generous retirement package in our discussions.
The CSOA is committed to reaching an agreement with our musicians that is good for all involved, including the community that loves and supports the Orchestra.
We look forward to our upcoming concerts this weekend.
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  • opus 131 says:

    “Even though CSO musicians have one of the best contracts in the industry, the CSOA is not asking for a concessionary agreement.” This is quite simply a whopping lie. The health insurance package being offered is a major step backwards, and the proposed elimination of a defined benefits pension represents an unprecedented demand for an appalling concession.

    • drummerman says:

      so the musicians are willing to strike over health insurance?

      • Andrew says:

        Sounds like you’re not familiar with the deplorable, shameful state of health insurance in the USA, but ok.

      • Bill says:

        I don’t know the details of what is being offered, but when one of my family members worked there, they had an excellent health plan that must be quite expensive by this point, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that they probably want to shift some of the undoubtedly spiraling cost.

        As for eliminating defined benefits pension plans, they are now a minuscule percentage of retirement plans, low single digits. I agree that many would prefer one to having to manage their own destiny, but the handwriting is on the wall, and US orchestras will soon be in the column labeled “Formerly offered defined benefit pension plans” along with just about everyone else. And if you do have a big DBPP, you really want your employer to stay economically healthy until you are dead, because a trip to bankruptcy court may redefine those benefits!

        Best to avoid killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, for labor and for management!

        • NYMike says:

          Philadelphia declared a false bankruptcy in ’11 just to get out of their DBPP. The deal was scandalous. The musicians have yet to recover from the damage done to their contract. CSO’s musicians – well aware – are undoubtedly fighting to avoid the same fate. BTW, SF, NY, Boston and LA among others still have DBPPs.

          • Bill says:

            Yes, they do — but the overall economic tide is turning against DBPP use. The last figure I saw was something like 4% now vs 60+% in the 1980s. At many employers, only the bigwigs still get them, everyone else has to hope they manage their 401K well.

  • viola fan says:

    “average salary of more than $185,000”

    wow. just wow.

    • Amy Adams says:

      Your point, exactly?

      The average salary of baseball players on one of 30 major league teams is well over 3 million dollars…

      Baseball is about the players and how they play the game, and their fans’ continuing interest in watching them. Orchestras are about the musicians and how they play the music, and their fans’ continuing interest in attending their concerts. While the revenue streams of sports and music are different, there is surely a good parallel between high-level athletes and musicians to be drawn – those at the top of the game deserve to be paid like it.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Not this ridiculous canard again.

        In the past musicians and sports stars got more similar wages. But now they don’t. The reason is that sport is shown to a huge audience on television, with the television companies paying large amounts of money to broadcast live sports. If the Chicago SO generates the television viewing figures of the Chicago sports teams, then they will get similar wages.

        Bottom line, having a rare skill that you spent hours practising does not mean you deserve a high salary.

    • Bill says:

      Remember, there are some players who make a lot more than that driving up the average. From the 2017 IRS filing:

      Robert Chen: 554,000
      John Sharp: 362,000
      David Herbert: 339,000
      Stephen Williamson: 362,000

      if 3 of those 4 principals are making twice the average or more, and the orchestra is only required to report the salaries of a handful of players, it’s a good bet that there are quite a few more principals who are slumming it with say 125% of the minimum. I don’t know the details of their payroll, but if we assume 100 musicians, $159,000 minimum, $185,000 average, and assume 90 @ about $175,000, 6 principals at $200,000, and the named principals as stated, that gives you that $185,000 average even though only 10 people are making as much as the average. Orchestra managements like to trot out the average number because it looks really high and puts the public on their side (those musicians are getting paid too much!) even though the number of musicians who get that much is usually small. In other professions, the average figure is much more likely to be representative of what most of the employees make. I’m sure they’d like to be able to lump in Muti’s pay for computing the average, because that would bump it up by about $12,000!

      With friends and family members who are or have been members of both labor and management at the CSO, not to mention patrons, I hope they quickly reach a sustainable agreement everyone can live with.

  • Kcclovemusic says:

    I am usually on musicians’ side, but not on this case..

  • Ben says:

    yes…and for compensation and benefits….and for good reason

  • fflambeau says:

    Maybe this has something to do with the strike? Chicago Symphony brings in more money a year than any USA orchestra (but does not pay as well as others):

    Top 10 Earners
    Chicago Symphony: $2,776,869.
    San Francisco Symphony: $2,715,815.
    Dallas Symphony: $2,657,139.
    Los Angeles Philharmonic: $1,906,100.
    New York Philharmonic: $1,672,450.
    Cleveland Orchestra: $1,248,711.
    Philadelphia Orchestra: $1,110,000.
    Saint Louis Symphony: $1,042,644.

  • Mark(london) says:

    greedy bunch.. fire them and recruit!