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As CSO strike grinds on, Association cancels events through April 30; no new talks in view

Submitted by on Apr 8, 2019 – 11:54 pm

Music director Riccardo Muti, who took a stance in support of the musicians in his last visit, is scheduled to return for two weeks of concerts May 2-11. (Photos by Nancy Malitz)

Report Updated April 18: At a session April 16, the sides remained at odds over pensions. Further cancellations would kill Muti concerts.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

After a negotiation session April 16 proved fruitless between the striking musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, the Association on April 18 extended its cancellation of events  through the end of the month — or two days before the first scheduled concert in music director Riccardo Muti’s return for two weeks of performance with the CSO.

Here’s the list of additional dates now removed from the slate of events under Association sponsorship:

Civic Chamber Music concert at People’s Music School on April 24.

CSO subscription concerts April 25-27 with conductor Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider and cellist Gautier Capuçon.

Symphony Center Presents pianist Simon Trpčeski on April 28.

Civic Orchestra of Chicago concert on April 30 with conductor Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider.

On April 8, asserting that the “last, best and final” offer from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association would leave the orchestra’s musicians “further behind the orchestras of Los Angeles and San Francisco, the CSO musicians voted to reject the proposal.

Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra walked in support of the striking CSO in front of Orchestra Hall in March.

“We are extremely disappointed that management refuses to hear the musicians’ concerns about a secure retirement for the musicians and a secure future for the CSO,” Steve Lester, chairman of the musicians’ negotiating committee, said in a statement. “In contrast, the proposal put forth by the union – but rejected by the board — fully addressed management’s alleged concerns about unpredictable pension funding while guaranteeing the musicians and the orchestra the security deserved.”

With talks stalled, the Association canceled all events through April 23. Those include:

CSO All-Access Chamber concert, a free performance by the CSO Chamber Players on  April 10.

CSO subscription concerts April 11-13 with guest conductor Emmanuel Krivine and pianist Benjamin Grosvenor as soloist in his CSO. The concert featuring this program at the Krannert Center in Urbana, Ill., scheduled for April 16 is also canceled.

Symphony Center Presents the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour 60th Anniversary Celebration on April 12.

The public and school performances of Once Upon a Symphony: The Boy and the Violin, A
Brazilian folktale, on April 13 and April 15.

Civic Chamber Music concert at Indian Boundary Park on April 13.

Civic Chamber Music concert at the National Museum of Mexican Art on April 14.

Symphony Center Presents violinist Midori and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet on April 14.

The Latino Alliance 5th Anniversary Celebration scheduled for Monday, April 15 has been postponed to a future date to be announced.

The Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s concert with Mocrep on April 18 has
been postponed to a future date to be announced.

CSO subscription concerts April 18 23 with conductor Fabien Gabel and pianist Emanuel Ax.

Civic Chamber Music concert at the Zhou B Art Center on April 19.

Symphony Center Presents Zakir Hussain and the Masters of
Percussion on April 19.

Characterizing the two weeks of cancellations as “unanticipated and unwarranted,” the musicians union said in a statement:

“The Association’s unilateral decision to cancel the next two weeks of concerts was without consultation with the union. There is no basis to assume that we cannot reach an agreement within the next two weeks. The musicians regret the Association’s decision.”

The CSO musicians went on strike March 11. The board’s latest proposal includes a change in projected salary increases to 12 percent over five years from 5 percent over three years. The musicians objected that the five-year increments would be “hardly keeping up with inflation” and would not make up “for losses over the past five years since the last contract” and would put the CSO “farther behind the salary offerings of San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

But the real bone of contention remains pensions. According to a statement by the musicians, the Association’s latest proposal would freeze the pension plan at its current level today, “thereby prohibiting new hires from joining and denying nearly two-thirds of the orchestra currently in the pension plan any guarantee to increase their retirement benefit, even if they don’t retire for another 20 years.  New employees would get no guaranteed retirement benefit.”

Jeff Alexander, the CSOA president, said, ““Throughout these negotiations we have continued to listen to the concerns of our musicians and have directly responded with proposals that provide an exceptional, comprehensive compensation package. With the final offer on (April 7), we have proposed a long-term
agreement that would allow the parties to repair their working relationship, bring stability to the organization, support the musicians in a transition to a new retirement benefit and grow the annual base salary by 12%, retaining a contract that remains at the top of our industry.”

In a statement, the Association said key provisions of its latest offer included:

5-year agreement vs. a (former) 3-year agreement.

Salary increases each year of 2 percent, 2 percent, 2 percent, 2.5 percent and 3 percent, reaching an annual minimum base pay of $178,152 in the final year of the contract vs. the 1 percent, 2 percent, 2 percent, reaching an annual minimum base pay of $167,094 in the final year of the contract.

A phased transition of the retirement plan for current members of the Orchestra. Each musician can select from two options (July 1, 2020 or July 1, 2023) for the date of their transition from the Defined Benefit (DB) pension plan to a Defined Contribution (DC) plan, depending on what best suits their individual needs. Until then, they can continue to earn benefits under the DB plan.

Increase in the annual employer contribution for the new DC plan from 7 percent to 8 percent for all
current and new musicians.

Special, additional transition contributions for three years, based on current musicians’
years of service and age. 67 musicians would receive the maximum additional
contributions from the Association into their individual retirement accounts – totaling
more than $90,000 in the first three years of the transition.

To directly address the musicians’ stated desire for protection from potential shortfalls in
their DC accounts, the Association added an investment protection feature to provide
security of their annual benefit in retirement.

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