Officials back striking Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians, free concerts planned

CHICAGO — A strike at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra stretched into a second week Tuesday, as the musicians garnered support on the picket line from both artists and members of Congress.

The musicians have been carrying picket signs instead of instruments since last Monday, as negotiations between the Chicago Federation of Musicians and the CSO Association appear to be at an impasse. Fellow performers from theater and television joined the picket lines Tuesday. Another week of concerts has been canceled as the strike continues.

The musicians say they’ve made too many contract concessions over the last decade, and now have wages and pensions that languish behind comparable world class orchestras. Now they're seeking a significant wage increase over a number of years, bringing annual base salaries to nearly $164,000, which is in line with what musicians in Boston and New York are paid. They also want management to increase pensions.

“We find ourselves falling behind, and on a path that will take us even further behind,” said Negotiating Committee Chair and bass player Steve Lester. “We are looking to find an economic package that will keep us in pace with our colleagues in other orchestras. That’s all.”

In a press conference call this week, the symphony orchestra’s board chair said the union's demands are "unreasonable and detrimental to a sustainable future."

There is increasing political pressure to find a solution to the strike after a number of congressional leaders said the symphony is one of the most important cultural institutions in the world. Eight members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation, including U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston),  U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-South Side) expressed support for the strike Tuesday.

“There’s nothing better than the gift they give to Chicagoans, and others throughout the world, and we need to give to them the dignity of security when they’re ready to retire,” said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-West Side).

Adding to the political pressure to resolve this labor breakdown at one of the nation’s foremost cultural institutions, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wrote a letter in support of the musicians saying, quote: “Democrats stand in solidarity with you in asking the Chicago Symphony to come to the table with respect for the value of your work.”

As the strike continues, the musicians plan to give a series of free concerts. The first will be a small chamber concert March 22 at PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Ave, and the second will be a full orchestra performance March 25 at the Chicago Teacher’s Union’s Main Hall.

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