CSO musicians authorize a strike for March 10

Thu Feb 14, 2019 at 2:40 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

UPDATED. Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra voted to go on strike March 10 if negotiations with management do not reach agreement on a new contract by then.

That date will mark the end of the six-month contract extension under which the musicians are currently working. The CSO’s previous three-year contract expired on September 17.

In the meantime, all local concerts and the orchestra’s upcoming East Coast tour at the end of this month will go on as scheduled.

The vote was taken Wednesday night and announced Thursday in the lobby of Orchestra Hall by musician members of the Chicago Federation of Musicians.

“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 CSO bass Stephen Lester, chair of the negotiating committee, in a statement released by the CFW after the event.

Lester adds that the “overwhelming vote to strike was driven by management’s insistence on reducing benefits and offering inadequate compensation.” He claims that “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.”

The release states that “over the past decade the musicians have seen their compensation and benefits stagnate, while their schedules increased and working conditions deteriorated.” The statement also says that the CSO has failed to keep pace with the comparable wages and benefits that have risen for the Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and San Francisco Symphony.

In the same release, violinist Gina DiBello says “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.”

“Management is trying to squeeze us to pay their bond debt for [the 1997] rehab of Symphony Center costing more than $100 million,” says CSO principal percussionist Cynthia Yeh. “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.”

In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association said that management is “committed to reaching consensus on an agreement that would allow the organization to remain financially sustainable” while also exploring “an alternative structure for comparable musician retirement benefits.”

The CSOA stated that CSO musicians enjoy the third highest base salary in the country (after Los Angeles and San Francisco), as well as the highest seniority pay; also a generous medical benefits and retirement package, and the most guaranteed paid time off and sabbatical time of any orchestra in the country.

The last CSO contract, ratified in 2015, gave the musicians a 5% salary increase over three years and a 4.3% increase in pension benefits, with no changes to health care plans or contributions.

Check back to CCR for further developments.

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One Response to “CSO musicians authorize a strike for March 10”

  1. Posted Mar 04, 2019 at 5:16 pm by Thomas Trimborn

    I have been listening to the CSO for over 50 years and believe it to be the greatest in the world, especially now under Maestro Muti.

    That said I fervently hope that the planned strike will not have to happen. These wonderful musicians deserve as many benefits as is reasonable for them to thrive and make great music.

    Respectfully, T. Trimborn

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