Picket Signs Instead of Violins. Why Is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Going on Strike?

The classical musicians are going on strike after the negotiations over pay and pension benefits with the management failed.

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Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) goes on strike, Steve Lester, the Chair of the Musicians of the CSO confirmed pointing out the failed 11-month negotiations with the Board of Trustees over pay and retirement benefits.

The CSO players, represented by the Chicago Federation of Musicians stated the management is trying to reduce their pension benefits despite the continually increasing ticket sales and donations since 2013, emphasized the union.

Lester also noted that the Board of Trustees had offered the orchestra a reduced benefits package, ending the pension stipends of $3,000 per year after the orchestra musicians retire. 

Furthermore, the Board also proposed a 5 percent increase n base pay over the life of the new three-year contract. In addition to that, the management also imposed shifting musicians from a pension plan to a direct contribution plan.

In a letter to the musicians sent Friday last week, Jeff Alexander, the President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, explained that the new management proposal ''increases their salaries, improves their working conditions, and keeps their earned retirement benefits.''

The union disagreed pointing out that the Board only wanted to cut their benefits, including vacation days and pension contributions.

Riccardo Muti, the CSO music director also joined in the public debate last week, highlighting that the Board should give the musicians the recognition they deserve and would ensure the tranquility and serenity the artists need to perform their duties.

As per the Board's calculations, continuing the current pension plan would bring severe difficulties to the institution, putting its financial health at risk.

 In response to the strike announcement, Helen Zell, board chair of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, expressed her disappointment by the decision of the musicians to hit the street.

Zell emphasized it was the Board's primary responsibility to take care of the financial well-being of the orchestra by updating the pension and compensation packages.

As of Monday, March 11, all the 106 full-time musicians voted to suspend performances. There will be picket lines from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday across the doors of Orchestra Hall on Michigan Avenue. Musicians said they would not suspend the strike until they reach a new contract with the management.

The German-American violinist and conductor Theodore Thomas founded the Chicago Symphony Orchestra  in 1891. Over the years, the recordings by the Orchestra have own sixty-two Grammy awards.

What do you think? Do you support the musicians in their attempts to keep their benefits? Or do you believe that preserving the Orchestra's financial health, as put by the Board, is more important?