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Striking CSO musicians urge management to return to negotiations

Striking Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday urged management to return to the bargaining table. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

With the their leader set to return to the city next week for May concerts, striking Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians urged management to come back to the bargaining table — two weeks after the musicians rejected their “last, best and final offer.”

“We are confident that the money that’s available — on the table already — is there to make a settlement. So what’s the problem? The problem is ideology,” Steve Lester, a bassist and chair of the CSO musicians negotiation committee, said talking to reporters Wednesday outside Orchestra Hall.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday extended his support in helping end the strike.

“For more than 125 years, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been a crown jewel within Chicago’s rich cultural landscape. None of us want to see that jewel tarnished,” Emanuel said in a statement.

“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 the current impasse,” Emanuel said.

Lester stood beside two poster-size charts, one of which illustrated the salaries of other major U.S. orchestras, and how, he said, the CSO is failing to keep pace.

The New York Philharmonic — located in a city with a population more than twice the size of Chicago and with a higher cost of living — was not among those in the comparison. Their salary is “a little bit lower than ours,” Lester said.

“If we (put) everybody on that graph, the numbers would be so small, you wouldn’t be able to read it. We had to make decisions,” Lester said in explanation.

Salary and the musicians’ pension plan have been the major sticking points for both sides. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association wants to replace the musicians’ traditional pension plan with a defined contribution plan. The CSOA says it is offering an “exceptional, comprehensive compensation package.”

Riccardo Muti, the CSO’s music director, is expected to return to the city next week. All scheduled CSO concerts through April have been canceled or postponed due to the strike, which began March 11.