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Chicago Symphony Orchestra Musicians Go On Strike

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 23, 2012 2:35PM

Photo from the CSO's Facebook page

Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians went on strike Saturday evening prior to their 8 p.m. concert, a performance that would've been their second subscription show of the 2012-13 season, nearly 24 hours after their rain-soaked "Concert for Chicago" in Millennium Park. The previous collective bargaining agreement expired at midnight on Sunday, Sept. 16, and the CSO musicians had continued rehearsing and performing until now.

The central issue involves health insurance. Currently, CSO musicians pay 5 percent of the total cost of health insurance premiums, with the remainder paid by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. The CSOA proposed that the musicians pay 12 percent. With an annual reported total health insurance cost of $18,000 per musician, that would mean an increase of $1,260 per year. The Chicago Federation of Musicians, which represents the CSO musicians, said they would only agree to the new contract "if the 7 percent difference was covered with additional wages in the new contract."

The Chicago Classical Review writes:

On the salary issue, management has proposed a 4.48% percent wage increase over three years, a stark contrast to the musicians’ last contract which raised players’ salaries 25% over five years.

We don't know what the musicians' counteroffer was, but, by our math, that 4.48 percent wage increase would cover the additional 7 percent of health care premiums.

How much should you care about this? Maybe about as much as you care that these musicians, whose base pay works out to $144,820 per year (with many earning much more) have to pay a little more for health insurance?

With a tour to New York and Mexico scheduled to begin October 3, we assume this is just a negotiating tactic by the musicians and that this will all be resolved shortly. We can only hope that management and the musicians both recognize the dangerous game of chicken they're playing - after the recent CPS labor battle Chicago doesn't have the patience for an extended work stoppage, and orchestras, even one of the best in the world, can't afford to alienate their fans.