What a difference 24 hours can make. After a spectacular concert in Millennium Park on Friday evening, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has fallen silent. This evening’s concert at Orchestra Hall was canceled one hour before the concert was to begin because the CSO musicians have gone on strike. When concert-goers arrived, instead of proceeding indoors to their seats, they were greeted by the strange sight of musicians picketing outside.
The musicians have been working without a contract since last Sunday, September 16, and, according to the musicians, the issues are economic, including concerns about salaries and health benefits. The last of numerous negotiations between the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and the Orchestra Members Committee (which negotiates the musicians’ contracts) ended at 6:15 this evening, less than two hours before this evening’s concert was to begin.
Deborah Rutter, President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, said the musicians were offered a three-year contract that would have provided them with a minimum base weekly salary of $2,795 in the first year, with increases to $2,835 and $2,910 in years two and three, respectively (the previous weekly base minimum salary was $2,785). The Association also offered health benefit packages that totaled about $18,000 per musician but that would increase each musician’s contribution from 5 to 12 percent.
Bassist Stephen Lester, chairman of the Orchestra Members Committee, told reporters that the musicians are being asked to accept a decrease in compensation and “exorbitant increases “in health care contributions.
The reaction among concert-goers was mixed. Some were quite annoyed that so little notice was given of the strike, making it impossible for people to learn of the cancellation before leaving home, while others said that, although disappointed, they support the musicians if they have real grievances.
Officials said that ticket holders can exchange their tickets for a future CSO performance, request a refund through the Symphony Center Box Office at (312) 294-3000, or donate their tickets.
If you have tickets for the next scheduled concert on Wednesday, check the CSO website, which will contain the most up-to-date information on the status of that concert.
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