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More CSO concerts canceled as musicians’ strike enters its second week

Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike in front of Symphony Center, Tuesday, March 12, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Monday canceled more concerts as the strike by its musicians spills into its second week.

The cancellations include subscription concerts and education activities through CSO’s School Concert series scheduled through March 25. Also canceled was the CSO at the Movies “An American in Paris” presentation at 8:30 p.m. Friday with conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos.

Ticketholders for canceled shows may exchange tickets for future dates, donate their tickets or request refunds at cso.org or by calling (312) 294-3000.

The musicians’ biggest concerns are management proposals for “inadequate” salary increases and to replace musicians’ traditional pension plan with a defined contribution plan.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association board chair Helen Zell said in a Monday phone conference that continuing the existing pension plan would be “irresponsible” of management.

“Unfortunately, this strike at the current time is for terms that the association and board of directors believe are unreasonable and detrimental to a sustainable future for the CSOA,” Zell said. “That is not good for anyone.”

Negotiations between the musicians union and orchestra management took place on Friday and Saturday, CSOA President Jeff Alexander said. No date has been set for the next session.

Alexander said there “has not been movement on the wage question from either side,” as both of last week’s sessions were almost “100 percent focused” on the pension issue.

“We have heard the musicians saying that their pension is a promise, implying that we are taking away what has already been promised. That is absolutely untrue,” Alexander said. “This is about transitioning to a sustainable retirement plan for their future and the future of the CSOA.”

The Chicago Federation of Musicians issued a statement later Monday.

“The CSO has maintained a pension plan for its musicians for almost 50 years, and every current orchestra member was hired with the promise of a pension with a guaranteed benefit,” the statement read.

“The CSO can well afford its pension plan, and its claim that the pension plan will imperil its future is untrue. … Ironically, the CSO savings plan proposal actually costs more money over the next 10 years than the cost of maintaining its current pension plan ($38 million more, according to documents shared six months ago).”

In a Monday statement, chairperson of the union’s negotiating committee Stephen Lester echoed that and said maintaining the current pension plan and offering an improved “economic package” would do more to “safeguard the future of the orchestra” than management’s proposals.

“Otherwise we will become a second class provincial orchestra unable to attract or retain talented musicians,” Lester said.