The start of a new season is usually a celebratory time for an orchestra. But for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the past few days have been a major headache for management and ticket holders. Musicians with the orchestra have been on strike since Saturday after contract negotiations fell through.
The orchestra said the disagreement centers mostly around wages and employee contributions toward healthcare costs.
Chicago’s orchestra joins a number of other classical groups experiencing labor problems. Musicians with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra were locked out earlier this month after a labor contract expired. Members of the the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra were also locked out this month due to budgetary problems.
The Chicago strike resulted in the cancellation of Saturday’s concert, which was supposed to have featured music director Riccardo Muti conducting the orchestra in pieces by Dvorak and Resphighi. More cancellations could be announced if a compromise with the union isn’t reached.
Representatives of the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208 have rejected the orchestra’s proposal for a three-year contract. The orchestra says that its last offer would have made its members “among the best-compensated in a U.S. orchestra.”
Leaders of the Chicago Symphony said that the minimum annual base pay for its musicians was $144,820 in fiscal 2012, and that the average salary was $173,000.
The Chicago strike is still just a few days old. The Detroit Symphony endured a six-month strike that began in 2010 and was one of the longest in U.S. orchestra history.
This is Chicago’s second high-profile labor dispute, on the heels of a week-long strike by the city’s teachers.