Chicago Mayor: How I settled the Symphony strike

Chicago Mayor: How I settled the Symphony strike


norman lebrecht

May 03, 2019

From an interview with Rahm Emanuel in today’s Tribune:

Q: One of your last acts was dealing with the strike at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Why choose that?

A: You have all of these waiters and stagehands who are not performing but whose livelihood is dependent on the performances. They had to have a voice at the table and a sense of urgency to their situation. And the Chicago Symphony is one of the great symphonies of the world. We are a world-class city with a global presence: the symphony, the Joffrey, Steppenwolf. That’s what the architectural biennial is about. That is one of things we’ve tried to do differently these years. Besides all the investments in the neighborhood, we’ve pressed Chicago up as a global presence on the international scale. If you have one of your main cultural pillars lose a season that begins to have a cascading effect.

Q: What was the nitty-gritty?

A: You have to go back five weeks. Marilyn Katz (a consultant for the musician’s union) asked me to go on the picket lines. I said no. I said you’re going to need a third party. Then two weeks ago, I emailed (Symphony board chair) Helen Zell and told her I was thinking about intervening. She said they didn’t need it. But the press release from the musicians saying (Riccardo) Muti was coming soon told me that they were ready to make a deal.

So I told both sides, I’m issuing a press release inviting you to negotiate in my office. Then I told each side the other side had said it was going to say yes. That’s part of the art of negotiation. Both sides came and then I asked each side for their latest offer, but also where they had started eight weeks ago. Then I asked each side to describe their proposal in front of each other. And then I sent them to separate rooms.

Before they went, I said, give me your dietary restrictions and you’ll get all the food you want, but nobody goes home before this is settled. But because this is Friday and the Sabbath, I am going home at four-thirty, and I will either tell everybody you’re a bunch of schmucks or I will praise you all. It got settled at 4:22 p.m. Literally.



  • DirtLawyer says:

    Rahm is known for having a vocabulary that would make even a low brass player blush. Something tells me he was just a little bit more graphic with both sides. And it worked.

  • Mario Lutz says:

    As Kojak… all resolve in thirty minutes….

  • justanobserver says:

    Wow. I love this story.

  • Interested Party says:

    The sense of self importance is staggering. I’m glad THEY settled the strike.

    • Nick2 says:

      Funny! Didn’t they spend weeks and weeks and weeks and couldn’t get anywhere near a settlement. Then in steps the Mayor, reads the riot act – and lo and behold the strike is suddenly and immediately settled. Anyone who believes they settled it themselves is – well – in some sort of cloud cuckoo land in my view.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    It sounds like he jumped in knowing that they were about to settle and is pompous enough to try to take credit for it. A true politician.

    • Bill says:

      An old boss was fond of saying “it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re not worried about who will get the credit!” A fair number of people are happy that the orchestra is back to work with a new contract, and very few will care about whether or not RE has overstated his role in getting the two sides to that point.

    • Judy akatz says:

      How right you are!

  • David says:

    Well, if this is truthful, and I hope it is, those are some first-class negotiation skills.

  • Paul Wells says:

    Rahm’s been a disappointing mayor, but this is a great anecdote if it’s even kind of accurate.

    • Kelly says:

      Rahm has not been a disappointing mayor. Please explain the bar for success as mayor of Chicago and then tell me who would have done better? Then go someplace and get over yourself.

  • Jared Gonnzaleez says:

    So will he fix public pensions next? Each Chicagoan owes $140000 to bail them out.

  • michael says:

    Considering the well-publicized problems in that city, I hardly think he is in a position to toot his own horn.

    • Bill says:

      Because the mayor can fix any and all of them, no matter what anyone else wants, right? A lot of experience in big city government, I see!

  • Peggy Sullivan says:

    Wonderful commentary AND action by Mayor E! I am not a fan of his, but he was at his best here.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I love it. Whether truthful or not, it’s the very definition of chutzpah.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    The N.Y. Times story seems impartial and rather sensible.

  • fflambeau says:

    What is that old saying: “Failure is an orphan but victory has many fathers.” Rahm is always ready to take credit.

    From the above, it appears the DECISIVE event was the return of Muti (and remember, he has several concerts in early May that would have been cancelled). I’m certain he was the main reason everything was settled.

    • Bill says:

      If Muti’s presence was such a factor, why didn’t the strike get settled in what, the first week, when he was walking around chatting with the musicians on the picket line?

  • debusschubertussy says:

    Why did anyone even vote for this guy? Corrupt, cronyism, liar, inept.

  • christopher storey says:

    Why is it utter nonentities that blow their own trumpet loudest ?

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    You got to love Rahmulus. He truly is Mayor 1%.

    He brokered a deal between the Plutocrats and the bottom 1%’s and is now trumpeting it as one of his major accomplishments of being in office.

    Meanwhile, he was responsible for burying the Lequan MacDonald shooting until he was reelected, the roads in Chicago are worse than most third world countries, and the City is broke on paper.

    Nice work indeed!

    • Bill says:

      Roads in Chicago in terrible shape? Well, that’s not new to his term as mayor, is it? And the city’s balance sheet looking grim, that’s nothing new either. But if you can do better, time to start running! You’ll make lots of fans if you can actually deliver some improvement!

      • Old Man in the Midwest says:

        You stayed away from the Laquan MacDonald issue. So let’s be frank.

        If the tape of the 16 shots had been released prior to the election instead of being surpressed, who do you think would be the mayor right now?

        And Mayor 1% would not have brokered the deal and looked like Moses.

        And by the way, I think we have the potential for change with the new mayor coming in. She has just as good a shot as anyone to make some of the structural changes that need to be made (including revising the pensions) as anyone and I wish her luck.