Invitation accepted: Symphony musicians, management to resume talks at City Hall

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Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians went on strike March 10. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and its striking musicians have agreed to meet Friday morning with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in hopes of reaching a deal that will save a subscription concert series that starts in May.

“Both sides have accepted the mayor’s offer and will meet at City Hall [Friday] morning at 8:30 a.m. to focus negotiations,” Shannon Breymaier, Emanuel’s communications director, said Thursday.

Members of the orchestra have been on strike since March 10. A spokeswoman for the CSO association confirmed plans for the meeting but had no additional details. There was no immediate comment from the musicians.

The decision to broker the CSO talks marks the first time in eight years Emanuel has used the power of the mayor’s office to break a labor stalemate. It’s not known if he’ll adopt the tactic former Mayor Richard J. Daley used all the time — and not just to negotiate teachers contracts.

He brokered a host of labor agreements with private sector unions by summoning both sides into the mayor’s office on the fifth-floor of City Hall, putting them in different rooms, shuttling between the two and not allowing either side to leave until there was an agreement.

Former Mayors Michael Bilandic and Jane Byrne followed the same script. Daley’s son, former Mayor Richard M. Daley, seldom inserted himself in labor disputes. Neither has Emanuel — until now.

Emanuel often brags about never calling for a City Council vote he’s not certain he can win.

The mayor’s decision to get involved in the CSO talks with just three weeks to go before leaving office is a signal that he, likewise, believes this is a strike he can settle and a win he can achieve on his way out the door.

For the CSO, the stakes are high. The orchestra has canceled all concerts in April, but its music director, Riccardo Muti, is due in Chicago soon to begin a series of performances starting May 2. Muti has voiced his support for the musicians.

The union opposes management’s proposal to move the musicians from a traditional pension to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. The musicians also content management’s salary offer is inadequate compared with the pay scales at other prestigious orchestras.

Management has argued that its proposal would stabilize CSO finances while still guaranteeing top-tier salaries.

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