Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians go on strike

Karen Jordan Image
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians go on strike
Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians went on strike Sunday night.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike Sunday night after contract negotiations over wages and retirement benefits broke down after 11 months.

At issue is orchestra management's proposal to alter the musicians' pension from a defined benefit plan to a direct contribution plan.

Bass player Steve Lester, and chair of the Musicians of the CSO negotiating committee, said that what they see as a reduced benefits package puts the future of the company in jeopardy.

"We don't want to be in a situation where talented players leave or talented players don't come because we can no longer command the best compensation," said Lester, who has been with CSO for more than 40 years.

On Monday, musicians picketed outside the doors of Orchestra Hall in Chicago.

The CSO's management also shares a concern about the company's future, warning that the growing expense of the current pension plan, which guarantees a set benefit for life after retirement, is unsustainable.

They also say CSO members are some of the best-paid in the field and will get a 5-percent pay increase over the duration of the 3-year contract.

"We are very proud of our musicians we love our musicians as individuals and as the ensemble that is the Chicago symphony orchestra, so we're very comfortable and proud of the fact that their contract is in many areas is the best in the country," said Jeff Alexander, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association.

CSO conductor Maestro Ricardo Muti issued a statement saying he stands with the musicians.

"I understand their needs and how they should be treated, and the fact that they are among the best musicians in the world a crisis would damage the image of the institution," Muti said.