Sunday, 26 May 2019

» » On eve of CSO strike, management makes public its latest contract offer – Chicago Classical Review

By Lawrence A. Johnson

UPDATED. Late Friday night, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association released a letter sent by president Jeff Alexander to CSO members with management’s 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 musicians’ current contract extension expires Sunday night at 11:59 p.m. Tomorrow’s 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 from  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. 

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:

    • Increases ancillary payments related to scale by the same percentages
    • Retain current medical, dental and life insurance coverage with no increase in weekly contributions toward the cost of the premiums, and no reduction in the plans’ features
    • Retains paid time off at a minimum of 12 weeks
    • Increases long-term disability benefit from $10,000 to $15,000 per month
    • Increases paid parental leave from 4 to 6 weeks
    • Puts limits on the number of times the Association or Ravinia can schedule film concerts
    • Establishes a requirement for two consecutive days off at Ravinia at least four times each summer
    • Limits the Association from scheduling daytime services on the day of the downtown St. Patrick’s Day parade
    • Guarantees that Merry, Merry Chicago! concerts will be scheduled as “Members Of” services
    • Limits Saturday rehearsals during the Downtown Season (in all venues) to a total of eight
    • Requires pre-concert lectures held on stage to conclude 45 minutes prior to the concert start time
    • Removes the Second Harp position from the roster of full time Members, while maintaining the number of full time Members at 106

The only additional proposed reductions that would produce savings for the Association are:

  • Reducing per diem on international tours by $20 when breakfast is provided by the Association through the hotel, i.e. eliminating double payment for breakfast 
  • Eliminating the 4% vacation payment to Temporary Musicians
  • The hourly rate to judge Civic auditions will be $100 per hour and the fee for community workshops will be $120 per hour (with a two-hour minimum for offsite workshops)


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 “some encouraging aspects” to the latest proposal, the musicians say that it doesn’t come close to addressing its “fundamental concerns.”

They maintain that the proposed wages are not competitive with other major orchestras, and that the salary percentage increase is less than “virtually all other major orchestras, dropping us further behind relative to those groups, and does not keep pace with inflation.”

They also firmly reject the proposed switch from a Defined Benefit pension plan to a Direct Contribution plan. “Their proposal strips the membership of that guaranteed benefit, and shifts the investment risk to the individual member. Jeff’s email paints an unrealistic, snake oil, ‘rosy scenario’ sales job of their proposals.”

The union also claims that management’s letter doesn’t address other element of the contract proposal, including “reducing sabbatical weeks, reducing substitute pay, and eliminating the $3,000 annual individual pension supplement.”

Check back to CCR for updates.


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