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chicago symphony

Rahm Emanuel Offers Assistance in Ending Chicago Symphony Strike

chicago symphony
Reverend Jesse Jackson (center) stopped by to show support for striking Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians, members of 10-208 (Chicago, IL). With Jackson (L to R) are Russell Hershow, an enthusiastic patron, David Sanders, Susan Synnestvedt, Peter Conover, and Stephanie Jeong.

On April 24 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped forward with an offer to help the parties reach agreement and end the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) strike, then in its seventh week.

“For more than 125 years the CSO has been a crown jewel within Chicago’s rich cultural landscape,” Emanuel noted in a statement. “None of us want to see that jewel tarnished. After speaking with both parties, it appears that we should be able to achieve an end to this seven-week strike. Therefore, I am offering the services of my office to serve as a forum where both parties can work in good faith to facilitate an equitable and fair solution and that brings an end to the current impasse.”

chicago symphony
Chicago Symphony Musicians, members of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), on strike since March 10, have overwhelmingly rejected management’s “last, best, final offer.”

Striking musicians and CSO management have both accepted the mayor’s offer, which comes in the wake of CSO management’s rejection on April 16 of a contract proposal brought forward by CSO musicians.

“The Chicago Federation of Musicians offered another compromise proposal, which was flatly rejected by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association,” says Steve Lester of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), bassist and chair of the musicians’ committee. “The association restated their ‘last, best, and final’ offer [which was voted down overwhelmingly by musicians on April 8] and has not budged an inch, nor shared any new path for resolution.”

A major sticking point in negotiations is management’s proposal to eliminate the CSO’s defined benefit pension plan and replace it with a defined contribution plan. Analysis of the figures shows that, over the next 10 years, management’s proposal would actually cost the institution at least $11 million more than simply maintaining the existing pension plan. Management’s proposal would shift all investment risk to musicians. “We’re willing to share the risk,” says Lester. “But we’re not willing to assume 100% of the risk in investment returns and economic volatility.”

There has been an outpouring of support for striking CSO musicians. Illinois House Democrats led by Jan Schakowsky and including Danny Davis, Bobby Rush, Robin Kelly, Bill Foster, Raja Krishnamoorthi, and Chuy García came out to speak and deliver a letter of support from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Representative Sean Casten (D-IL), and Reverend Jesse Jackson have stopped for conversations. Other musicians, patrons, and friends continue to walk with the CSO musicians.

On April 12 Local 802 (New York City) musicians held a rally of support at Lincoln Center. Brass sections from the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, and  New York City Ballet orchestras performed.

chicago symphony
Local 802 (New York City) musicians held a rally of support for Chicago Symphony Orchestra Musicians at Lincoln Center. (L to R) are: Chris Martin, Tom Smith, Ethan Bensdorf, Mike Martin, and John Romero.

The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) issued a Call to Action on April 8 soliciting support for CSO musicians during this difficult time. On April 24, ICSOM announced that contributions had topped $200,000 with additional amounts being pledged daily.

CSO performances have been canceled through April 30. Since the strike began, CSO musicians have presented numerous free performances of their own throughout Chicago.

Boise Philharmonic Joins AFM

At the end of March, musicians of the Boise Philharmonic voted to unionize, joining the AFM as part of Local 689 (Eugene, OR).

“We’re excited to join the community of working musicians, and we think this is an exciting time in the life of our orchestra,” says Kate Jarvis, violinist and assistant concertmaster with the Boise Philharmonic. “We have a vested interest in the organization, and we think it’s important for the musicians to have a voice in the organization.” The philharmonic’s musicians met with management shortly after the vote, and they look forward to negotiating their first collective bargaining agreement.

New York Philharmonic Fills Hall with Public Service Workers

Through its new “Phil the Hall” series, New York Philharmonic is offering special concert programs with $5 general admission tickets for emergency personnel and public service workers. In the first program, presented in early April, the philharmonic contacted more than 30 organizations, including the New York City Fire Department, homeless shelters, public libraries, and more.

The 75-minute concert featured works by Beethoven, Bernstein, and Steven Stucky, as well as music written by students from the philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program. The evening was hosted by the current Miss America, Nia Imani Franklin, who is an arts advocate with training as a soprano and composer.

New York Philharmonic musicians are represented by Local 802 (New York City).

St. Louis Symphony Management Denies Librarian Inclusion in Bargaining Unit

On March 22, the librarians of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra voted to join their colleagues in the orchestra as members of the bargaining unit represented by Local 2-197 (St. Louis, MO). Regional Director Leonard Perez of Region 14 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered the Armour-Globe election after a two-day hearing in which symphony management challenged the appropriateness of including the three full-time music librarians in a bargaining unit of instrumental musicians. They also alleged one librarian is a supervisor not eligible for inclusion in any bargaining unit. Perez rejected both of these arguments, finding that the librarians shared a community of interest with the other musicians sufficient to support their inclusion in the unit and that there was insufficient evidence the challenged librarian exercised supervisory authority.

Unfortunately, symphony management is still refusing to recognize and bargain with Local 2-197 on behalf of the librarians. On April 15 management filed a 31-page request for review of the regional director’s decision with the NLRB in Washington, DC. Symphony management’s stance is in conflict with both settled law and industry standards: 35 of the 52 International Conference of Symphony Opera Musicians (ICSOM) orchestras include librarians in the same bargaining unit with other musicians.

baltimore symphony

Baltimore Symphony to Have a Summer Season After All

Although Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ (BSM) leadership has had a break from the traditional collective bargaining process, they continued to advance their cause in other, less traditional ways. On March 25, a group of musicians performed at Union Baptist Church in Baltimore City as part of an event to bring attention to The Johns Hopkins Hospital nurses’ organizing campaign. More specifically, the performance raised money for RN Vivian Obijekwu, who was unjustly terminated by the hospital after she advocated for safe patient care and fair treatment on her unit. Two hundred people attended the concert and helped raise $10,000 for Obijekwu, who recently won the right to receive unemployment benefits. She has a June date for an Unfair Labor Practice hearing in connection to her dismissal.

BSM Committee Co-Chair Greg Mulligan told the audience, “Although Hopkins nurses and BSO musicians have different occupations, we share the same general concerns. Both occupations take a lot of training, dedication, and teamwork. Musicians and nurses want to be treated with respect.”

baltimore symphony
Baltimore Symphony Musicians, members of Local 40-543, with Vivian Obijekwu, RN, for whom the musicians played a benefit concert in March. Obijekwu was fired by Johns Hopkins Hospital during the National Nurses Organizing Committee’s ongoing drive to gain union recognition for the nurses.

In a note to the musicians, Obijekwu wrote, “I would like to say a big thank you for everything your team did for me during the benefit concert. Words cannot express how grateful I am for all your help and support!” Baltimore Symphony Musicians support for the National Nurses Organizing Committee is an important demonstration of the power of music and the value of networking and working together to help our sisters and brothers in labor. In other words, if you want a friend, be a friend. For the past few months, the BSM negotiating committee received a lot of extra help and advice, and with the assistance of the company Phone2Action, built a fan base that sent more than 33,000 emails to Maryland’s state senators and delegates in support of House Bill 1404. The John C. Merrill Act, named in honor of a recently deceased former member of the orchestra, allocates a total of $3.2 million in additional state funding to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in FY 2020 and 2021.

baltimore symphony
Delegate Maggie McIntosh, chair of the Maryland House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee, and Brian Prechtl, Baltimore Symphony percussionist and co-chair of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ Committee, take a minute to enjoy the final vote that passed The John C. Merrill Act out of the Maryland General Assembly and onto the governor’s desk.

Per the legislation, three members of the negotiating committee will serve on a workgroup, along with members of the board and management. The workgroup will report back to the legislators in the fall. Although the initial push for the bill came from the musicians, BSO leadership joined with the musicians in lobbying tirelessly for the bill’s passage. As of this writing, all parties await the governor’s signature on the bill, while working to identify candidates for the chair position of the workgroup.

Lastly, although the draconian October 30 management proposal that includes a cut of 12 weeks has not been withdrawn, and in spite of the fact that the musicians have been working without a contract since mid-January, the BSM have worked with management to craft a summer season for which the musicians will continue to be employed and paid. The summer will include the BSO’s popular Academy program, celebrating its 10th anniversary in July.

The negotiating committee anticipates getting back to the bargaining table once the state funding bill has been signed into law by the governor in either late April or May. Baltimore Symphony Musicians are represented by Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD).

Philadelphia Orchestra Settles New Contract Early

For the first time in its history, The Philadelphia Orchestra musicians and management agreed to a new contract ahead of the deadline, which was September 16. Negotiations for the new four-year contract, which runs through September 10, 2023, began in February.

The contract will reinstate two more orchestra positions that were lost during the orchestra’s 2011 bankruptcy. One will be added in the 2020-2021 season and one will be added in the 2022-2023 season, bringing the orchestra’s complement to 97 players and two librarians. The contract also restores a 10th week of paid vacation lost during bankruptcy.

With a current base salary of $137,800, Philadelphia Orchestra musicians—members of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA)—will see raises of 2% in the first year of the contract, 2.5% in both the second and third years, and 3% in the final year. There is potential for additional pay, if the organization achieves certain surplus benchmarks. No changes were made to pension benefits or health care.

Changes in work rules will allow for additional Sunday afternoon concerts and an increased number of weeks with two double-rehearsal days, in order to accommodate Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s schedule with The Metropolitan Opera.

“This early agreement is the fruit of years of work invested in strengthening relationships between all of the stakeholders in our organization. Negotiations were conducted in a straightforward and respectful manner throughout. We thank Local 77 President Joseph Parente and Attorneys Melvin S. Schwarzwald and James G. Porcaro,” says Orchestra Committee Chair William Polk. The Philadelphia Orchestra anticipates that the amicable contract will inspire confidence from donors and brighten fundraising prospects.

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.

Toronto Symphony Launches Relaxed Performances Series

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) has announced a new Relaxed Performances series, designed specifically for people living with autism spectrum disorders, sensory sensitivities, communication disorders, and learning disabilities. The first concert is set to take place in April.

The one-hour, interactive “Let’s Dance!” program will feature music from a variety of dance styles and dancers will join the orchestra on stage. TSO musicians are members of Local 149 (Toronto, ON).

During Relaxed Performances, audience members are welcome to move around and express themselves vocally. A quiet space will be available outside the concert hall for anyone who needs to take a break. Rows of seats at the back of the hall will be kept empty to allow audience members to move away from the stage.

Prior to concert day, a visual guide will explain the concert experience step-by-step, in order to reduce anxiety. An autism awareness consultant with significant experience in the performing arts will provide specialized training to TSO musicians, staff, and front-of-house personnel.

baltimore symphony

Saga of Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ Contract Talks Continues

Continuing to rehearse and perform under the terms of an expired CBA since January 15, Baltimore Symphony Musicians are also working hard to build political support in both Baltimore City Hall and the Maryland state legislature for increased public funding. A resolution passed by the Baltimore City Council urged the Maryland General Assembly to restore the BSO’s state funding to pre-recession levels, “ensuring that [the Baltimore Symphony] remains a vital cultural and artistic asset for generations to come.”

baltimore symphony
Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello, Baltimore Symphony Musician and Players’ Committee co-chair Brian Prechtl of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), and BSO Music Director Marin Alsop of Local 802 (New York City) stand next to a copy of the Baltimore City Council resolution, introduced by Costello, in support of additional state funding for the orchestra.

Members of the BSO Players’ Committee, initially by themselves, and later joined by some of the orchestra’s board and management leadership, met with numerous state delegates and senators to effectively lobby for House Bill 1404, which will provide two years of additional state funding of $1.6 million each year. As of mid-March, the bill has been passed by the Maryland House of Delegates and awaits discussion and vote in the Senate. Assuming the bill becomes law, the two-year grant would go into effect July 1.

The bill requires the creation of a work group comprising board members, administrators, and musicians under a chairperson approved by the leaders of the general assembly. The purpose of the work group is to examine structural efficiencies of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, including health care costs and facility usage, and make recommendations regarding cost containment strategies and audience development. The report is due to the Maryland General Assembly by October 1.

baltimore symphony
Baltimore Symphony Musician Michael Lisicky of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), aka The Button Man, gives a young concert attendee a Baltimore Symphony Musicians button.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Symphony Musicians, members of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), continue to appear out in the community. An ensemble recently performed at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, and a woodwind quintet will play Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (with narration in Spanish) at one of the city’s library branches. A group of musicians will also take part in an event sponsored by the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC). The NNOC is conducting an organizing campaign for the nurses of Johns Hopkins Hospital. In addition to raising awareness about the nurses’ issues, this concert is a benefit for a pregnant registered nurse who advocated for fair treatment and improved patient care, and was fired after requesting Family and Medical Leave Act information.

ANIM: Returning Music to Afghanistan

Under the Taliban, the Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM) would have been unthinkable. Now it strives to bring music to a land where it had all but disappeared. In Kabul, Afghanistan, ANIM teaches music skills to 250 young people, both male and female, and there are plans to expand to other cities. ANIM’s all-women orchestra, Zohra, recently visited the United Kingdom.