By Lawrence A. Johnson
UPDATED. Late Friday night, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association released a letter sent by president Jeff Alexander to CSO membersÂ with managementâs latest contract proposal.
Last month the CSO musicians voted to go on strike Sunday if a new agreement is not reached by 3 p.m. The musiciansâ current contract extension expires Sunday night at 11:59 p.m. Tomorrowâs CSO matinee will take place as scheduled.
The current management proposal raises the musician base pay 5% over the three-year contract: $160,606 (1% increase) the first year, following by $163,818 and $167,094 (2% increases) the following years.
Management states that these increases would make the CSO the highest-paid orchestra in the country, apart fromÂ the substantial housing and cost of living bonuses given to players in Boston and San Francisco, which are much more expensive places to live.
The main area of conflict appears to be CSO management wanting to shift retirement benefits from a Defined Benefit plan to a Direct Contribution plan.Â
CSO management claims that the rapidly escalating cost of its current DB plan is financially untenable and, if allowed to continue, would endanger the financial health of the institution. This year, the letter states, the CSO was required to put in $3.8 million, an amount that would nearly double and rise to $36 million over the next eight years.
Management claims the new DC plan would maintain or improve pension benefits while putting the plans on a much more secure financial footing.
Other elements in the contract as outlined in the letter:
The only additional proposed reductions that would produce savings for the Association are:
The PR firm representing the musicians union released a response to the CSOA letter from the union negotiating committee Saturday afternoon.
While stating that there are âsome encouraging aspectsâ to the latest proposal, the musicians say that it doesnât come close to addressing its âfundamental concerns.â
They maintain that the proposed wages are not competitive with other major orchestras, and that the salary percentage increase is less than âvirtually all other major orchestras, dropping us further behind relative to those groups, and does not keep pace with inflation.â
They also firmly reject the proposed switch from a Defined Benefit pension plan to a Direct Contribution plan. âTheir proposal strips the membership of that guaranteed benefit, and shifts the investment risk to the individual member. Jeffâs email paints an unrealistic, snake oil, ârosy scenarioâ sales job of their proposals.â
The union also claims that managementâs letter doesnât address other element of the contract proposal, including âreducing sabbatical weeks, reducing substitute pay, and eliminating the $3,000 annual individual pension supplement.â
Check back to CCR for updates.
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