CSO management, musicians have five-year deal to end strike

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Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike in front of Symphony Hall on March 12. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Management of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its musicians agreed Friday to end a seven-week strike.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said both sides reached an “agreement in principle” after meeting in his City Hall office. There was no immediate word on when performances would resume.

A spokesman for the musicians said they would hold a ratification vote at 10 a.m. Saturday.

In a statement, the mayor said, “The symphony is an integral part of Chicago’s rich cultural fabric, but its economic impact extends beyond the musicians and management to the stagehands, ushers, restaurant servers and hotel workers whose livelihoods depend on a thriving symphony. I am pleased to announce that, after convening both parties at City Hall for a successful negotiating session, the management and the musicians have reached an agreement in principle to bring the music back to Symphony Center. ”

Neither side would immediately discuss settlement terms, though both confirmed the tentative agreement is for five years.

The renowned orchestra’s more than 100 members went on strike March 10. A sticking point was a plan by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, which manages the organization, to move musicians from a pension to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan.

But pressure for a deal was growing. An important series of subscription concerts, helmed by Music Director Riccardo Muti, is due to begin May 2.

In an interview Friday before an agreement was reached, Emanuel said, ‘”I told everybody, ‘Just let me know what you want, metaphorically…for lunch and dinner, if that’s what it takes.’

“Both parties would like to have the rest of the season and what they can recoup of the season. I think there’s an interest in seeing that happen….What you can pick up is that there’s a desire and a will to try and find a resolution.”

Both sides also fought over salaries. The association offered increases that it said would provide the nation’s highest base pay for orchestral musicians with at least 10 years’ seniority.

The Chicago Federation of Musicians countered that the offer provided a lower pay scale for those with less seniority than the orchestras of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Emanuel’s offer to broker a settlement marks the first time in eight years that he has used the power of the mayor’s office to break a labor stalemate.

Former Mayor Richard J. Daley did it all the time — and not just to negotiate teachers contracts.

Emanuel is more risk averse. He’s been reluctant to stick his neck out for fear his involvement may not lead to a settlement.

The mayor was asked Friday why he chose this particular labor stalemate to make the rare exception.

“These are great artists and musicians who make a tremendous contribution….You have all the waiters and waitresses around the restaurants that are dependent on a successful symphony. You have the stagehands who aren’t artists, but also make the show work. These peoples’ livelihoods are also affected,” Emanuel said.

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