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chicago symphony orchestra

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Goes On Strike

At odds with management over salary and pension issues, musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), members of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) went on strike at midnight, March 11. CSO musicians, who otherwise would have been in rehearsal, began picketing outside Orchestra Hall on the morning of March 11. The musicians held their first press conference March 12. Maestro Riccardo Muti arrived and was met by a brass ensemble of Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians. “Maestro, we’ve prepared a little music for you,” said Steve Lester, double bassist and chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee. The brass began to play, while Muti stood listening with approval.

chicago symphony orchestra
Chicago Symphony Orchestra Maestro Riccardo Muti (left) was met by a brass ensemble of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) members when he arrived outside Orchestra Hall to support for CSO musicians.

Before making public comments, Muti greeted his CSO colleagues warmly, with hugs, kisses, and handshakes all around. “I am here with my musicians,” said the conductor. “Today we were supposed to have rehearsal. We try to get a better situation for their life, their pension, their work.” The Maestro was applauded by the crowd.

On March 14, the musicians marched in the rain. Cook County Board President and Mayoral Candidate Toni Preckwinkle joined in a press conference. “I think it’s insulting that billionaires should say to ordinary working people—in this case musicians—that they have enough,” she says.

chicago symphony orchestra
During a press conference held on day nine of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) voices her support for striking musicians.

The following week brought a fine arts rally with support of ICSOM, TMA, SAG-AFTRA, Actor’s Equity, and AGMA. Eight members of the Illinois Democratic Congressional Delegation stopped by with a letter of support from Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Two free concerts are planned by the musicians as a gift to the City of Chicago.

Musicians and management have been negotiating for 11 months. Talks resumed for two days (March 15-16) with the musicians’ negotiating team presenting an offer that would have not only saved the musicians’ defined benefit pension plan but also saved the institution money. What has become clear is that CSO management has no interest in continuing with the current pension structure, although it is willing to spend millions on converting the plan to a defined contribution plan.

This demonstrates that the fight over pension isn’t about money but rather is about shifting risk to the musicians. CSO musicians also assert that the proposed management salary offer of a 5% pay increase over the next three years will not keep CSO competitive with peer orchestras.

chicago symphony orchestra
Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians, members of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), and their supporters picket outside Orchestra Hall on day four of the strike that began at midnight, March 11.

You can show support for CSO musicians through social media with the hashtags #csomusicians, #standwithyourmusicians, and #keepyourstandardshigh. A Facebook profile frame is also available. More information can be found at the musicians’ website: www.ChicagoSymphonyMusicians.com.

 “Picketing is a scary, cold, and lonely experience,” says CSO ISCOM Delegate Miles Manner of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). “Seeing the solidarity on the street and on social media goes a long way.”

As of this writing, no more bargaining sessions are scheduled. Picketing will take place every day until an agreement is reached.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Votes to Authorize Strike

On February 13, musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), represented by Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) voted to authorize a strike beginning March 10, if negotiations for a new contract are not complete. Contract talks began 11 months ago, with management seeking concessions in pension benefits, health care, and salary. A major sticking point is management’s desire to eliminate the musicians’ defined benefit pension plan, which has been in place for nearly 50 years, and move to a defined contribution plan.

CSO has run deficits for the past eight fiscal years—but the organization’s financial position has seen improvement, with ticket sales rising by $1.1 million for the 2017-2018 season. Musicians believe that management’s insistence on a concessionary contract is the result of a debt related to the orchestra’s venue.

“Management is trying to squeeze us to pay their bond debt for a rehab of Symphony Center costing more than $100 million,” says CSO principal percussionist Cynthia Yeh of Local 10-208. “We know that when people refer to the CSO they mean the musicians, our maestro, and the music—not the building (completed in 1997), however lovely it is. And it is for this—the music and musicians, the heart of the CSO—that we are willing to strike to protect.”

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Participates in Concert for Peace

In partnership with St. Sabina, Chicago’s largest African-American Catholic church, cellist Yo-Yo Ma presented “Concert for Peace” with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), members of Local 10-208; the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, a training ensemble for young musicians; and the Chicago Children’s Choir. Ma is a member of Local 802 (New York City) and creative consultant to CSO.

St. Sabina, located in a South Side neighborhood that has suffered from violence, created its Strong Futures program, which engaged 50 at-risk youth, aged 17 to 26, in full-time and part-time jobs during 2016. Concert for Peace raised $70,000 to benefit Strong Futures.

The concert program featured music by composers who are credited with creating a distinct American sound—Antonín Dvořák, Scott Joplin, Aaron Copland, and Duke Ellington. Two selections were dedicated to children lost to violence.

Reverend Michael Pfleger and Ma concluded the concert by urging the audience to take action to create a peaceful Chicago.