Striking musicians reject new contract proposal from Lyric Opera; company claims survival is at stake

Thu Oct 11, 2018 at 7:06 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Striking orchestra musicians picket outside Lyric Opera on Wednesday. Photo: Hannah Edgar

The leaders of the Chicago Federation of Musicians rejected a new contract proposal from Lyric Opera Thursday afternoon, the company stated.

In a press release sent out Thursday evening, the company bitterly criticized the musicians’ union for rejecting the proposal and, for the first time, raised issues about the company’s financial stability and future viability.

“The CFM leadership rejected the compromise, made no counter-proposal, and maintained their proposals to add nearly $2 million to the orchestra budget during the term of the contract,” read the statement.  “As a result, Lyric performances will continue to be canceled, additional staff will be laid off, and the financial future of Lyric is in jeopardy.” 

Lyric Opera stated for the first time, that the company was in more dire financial straits than they had previously indicated, with a current $10 million budget shortfall. That ample hole has been plugged with contributed revenue and special funds “that have been depleted more rapidly than originally projected.”

The statement blames the musicians’ failure to come to terms with exacerbating the company’s financial standing and possibly its very existence.  

“That shortfall is expected to increase next year and resources to cover the gap are being exhausted,” said the release. “Lyric’s cost savings from our unions and Lyric’s administrative staff, coupled with revenue generating initiatives, will reduce the annual shortfall. The CFM’s proposals, which would increase the shortfall, are irresponsible and shortsighted.”

The musicians responded by calling the offer “a bogus PR stunt.” The offer, submitted through a federal mediator, amounted to an ultimatum by management, they said, with just six hours to accept it before it is withdrawn.

The only change they claim is that the new contract offers to increase their work weeks. Yet the union says this is mere budgetary sleight of hand, since they already play the musical weeks at less than their usual wages.

“Lyric is not serious about settling the strike in such a way as to preserve its status as a world-class opera company,” read the musicians’ statement. “Anthony Freud’s slash-and-burn agenda – cutting the number of musicians, cutting their pay, slashing the number of opera performances, and eliminating radio broadcasts – remains intact.”


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2 Responses to “Striking musicians reject new contract proposal from Lyric Opera; company claims survival is at stake”

  1. Posted Oct 12, 2018 at 4:51 pm by Fiona

    The Management claims that they have to cut Lyric’s orchestra salaries due to declining audiences. Yet, they cancelled the popular live Opening Night broadcasts on WFMT and also the annual Operathon on the same station. This makes no sense at all: the live broadcasts heard world-wide was what made Chicago Lyric Opera a world-class powerhouse. The Operathon raised many thousands of dollars for the Opera and also served as one huge advertisement for the company.
    The broadcasts were not cancelled even during the worst financial downturn of the 2008-09. This Management team is inept and is turning our world-class opera into a regional playhouse.

  2. Posted Oct 12, 2018 at 5:41 pm by John Fischer

    I strongly support the artists. We have painfully witnessed the alarming decline in standards under the current management.

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