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CSO musicians, board approve deal to end strike after 7 weeks

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

Striking musicians and the board of trustees of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra both ratified a deal Saturday to end a seven-week strike.

The musicians declared “victory” with the five-year deal that includes a salary increase of more than 13 percent and guaranteed minimum retirement benefit protections.

It also keeps the musicians’ health benefit costs at level “and commits the parties to study options for providing retirement security for new hires,” the musician’s said.

“The musicians voted overwhelmingly for a fair and competitive compensation and retirement benefit plan that will ensure the excellence and sustainability of one of the finest orchestras in the world,” bassist and negotiating chairman Steve Lester said in a statement.

The musicians thanked Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who brought both sides to his City Hall office to help broker the deal that was struck in principle Friday evening and ratified by both sides on Saturday.

“I want to thank the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and the world-class musicians who make up the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for coming to the table and negotiating in good faith towards an agreement to end the strike,” Emanuel said in a Saturday statement. “This is a fair deal for the Symphony and its musicians, and a great deal for the future of one of our city’s greatest cultural institutions.”

Pressure had been mounting to land a deal ahead of an important series of subscription concerts helmed by acclaimed Music Director Riccardo Muti that is due to begin May 2.

“The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been a cultural treasure for this community for 128 years,” Helen Zell, chair of the orchestra association’s board, said in statement. “Our Trustees recognize and honor the exceptional artistry of the musicians. This new agreement reflects the excellence of the Orchestra and ensures that the musicians receive the outstanding compensation they deserve, while securing their and the CSOA’s long-term financial sustainability through the retirement plan transition.

The musicians said they’ll play their previously scheduled free public concerts in their “From the Heart of the Orchestra” series. First-come, first-served tickets are available for the April 30 show at Steinmetz College Prep and May 3 at the Garfield Park Conservatory.