From the musicians:
Chicago – (March 10, 2019) – After nearly a year of negotiations for a new labor agreement, and with management still trying to reduce their pension benefits, the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are on strike. After completing a Sunday afternoon concert and negotiating all evening, the musicians walked out and announced there would be no return until a contract agreement is reached.
“We have been clear from the beginning that we will not accept a contract that diminishes the wellbeing of members or the imperils the future of the orchestra,” says Steve Lester, bassist and Chair of the Musicians of the CSO negotiating committee. “As of today, the Musicians of the CSO are on-strike.” Lester adds: “Beginning at 8am on Monday morning, March 11, picket lines will stretch across all of the doors of Orchestra Hall through 8pm daily until a contract that is fair to the musicians is reached. It is requested that no orchestra, performer or patron cross the line.”
Cynthia Yeh, a percussionist and member of the Negotiating Committee, said that while Jeff Alexander, on behalf of the Helen Zell led Board of Trustees, has tried to convince members and the public that the Board of Trustees is offering a good contract – the truth is quite different. “The core difference between our plan and their proposal is that our plan keeps the guaranteed retirement benefit funded by the Association that has been the hallmark of the Orchestra’s benefits package (and those of other leading orchestras) for over 50 years,” says Yeh. “The Board of Trustees’ proposal strips the membership of that guaranteed benefit and shifts the investment risk to the individual member. The Board’s communique to Orchestra members and the press represents an unrealistic, snake oil, ‘rosy scenario’ sales job of their proposals,” adds Yeh.
From the organisation:
CHICAGO – Despite 11 months of negotiations, which included the services of federal mediators, expert third-party actuaries, and labor and benefit attorneys, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians — represented by the Chicago Federation of Musicians (CFM) — and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) did not reach agreement on a new contract. The previous contract expired at 11:59 p.m. on March 10.
At the close of today’s negotiating meeting, the union indicated that the musicians have decided to go on strike.
“We are disappointed by the union’s choice to disrupt the CSO season now underway, and we are available to return to negotiations when they are ready,” said CSO Association President Jeff Alexander. “We have worked tirelessly to be responsive to the musicians’ many proposals during negotiations and have responded with a package that provides exceptional benefits, offers salary increases, improves working conditions and protects their retirement benefits.
“We value the musicians, and our commitment to the artistic quality of the Orchestra is unwavering,” he said, adding that other CSOA unionized employees and administrative staff have made concessions over the last several years to help ensure a long future of the CSO.”
The musicians are now engaging in a strike for terms that the Association and Board of Trustees believe are unreasonable and detrimental to a sustainable future for the CSO.
CSO musicians have one of the most lucrative salary and benefit contracts in the industry. In 2017/18 the minimum annual salary was $159,000, the average annual salary was $187,000 and the average total compensation, e.g. including media payments, was $209,000. Even though the Association has experienced annual operating deficits for several years, it offered increased wages, improved working conditions, and a generous retirement package.
UPDATE: A strike for our times