Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians authorize strike for March 10 over new contract

By Keegan Morris |

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Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Today, the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra voted to authorize a strike if they cannot reach an agreement on a new contract with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association by March 10.

In September 2018, CSO musicians agreed to a half-year extension when the previous three-year contract term ended. This extension period, which ends on March 10, was meant to give more time for the CSO musicians and administration to reach an agreement on a new contract.

These renewed negotiations come after the CSO’s return from their three-week Asia tour, which concluded on February 4 with a concert in Osaka, Japan.

A statement from the Chicago Symphony musicians said, “over the past decade, the musicians have seen their compensation and benefits stagnate, while their schedules increased and working conditions deteriorated. Over the same period … competing orchestral associations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston increased their musicians’ wages and benefits relative to Chicago.”

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association released a statement saying, “In spite of the fact that the CSOA has been experiencing annual operating deficits for several years, the Association has already offered an improvement in wages and working conditions, and will continue to offer a generous retirement package in our discussions.” The CSOA also countered that CSO musicians have the highest seniority pay of any US orchestra and the third highest base salary of all US orchestras, after the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The previous three-year contract, which was in effect from September 2015 to September 2018, came after what former Chicago Tribune classical music critic John von Rhein characterized as “one of the longest and hardest-fought series of collective bargaining sessions in recent Chicago Symphony Orchestra history.” The terms of these agreements were a 1% salary rise in 2015-16 season, then 2% each season in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians are represented by the same union as the musicians of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Federation of Musicians, Local 10-208. In October 2018, the Lyric Opera musicians went on strike for four days to oppose proposed cuts by Lyric.