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2 Sides In Chicago Symphony Orchestra Strike To Meet On Friday

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Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra carry signs as they strike on March 11, 2019 in Chicago, after 11 months of talks failed to reach an agreement.
Kamil Krzaczynski , AFP/Getty Images

Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra carry signs as they strike on March 11, 2019 in Chicago, after 11 months of talks failed to reach an agreement.

In Chicago, musicians have gone on strike. The players in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of the country's top orchestras, let their contract expire on Sunday, March 10, and performances scheduled for this week have already been canceled.

"As soon as I saw their signs, I thought, 'I've been through this before,'" Patti Loach says. Loach, visiting the city from Toronto, stopped to talk to musicians on the picket line in downtown Chicago. "I have a number of friends who are musicians in the Toronto Symphony. And we were on strike."

Chicago Symphony bassist Stephen Lester was holding an 'On Strike' sign and says a main point of contention is the future of the musicians' retirement plan.

"Individuals would have a retirement account which the association would fund. But the value of that account would not be defined. It would not be guaranteed," Lester says.

Right now, it is guaranteed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, the nonprofit that manages the orchestra and its programs. Jeff Alexander is the association's president and says the proposed plan does not necessarily mean a reduced retirement fund.

"The offer that we've made, according to quite conservative calculations, on growth of those funds would put the musicians in as good if not a better state upon their retirements," Alexander says. But the lack of a guaranteed retirement plan would hurt the orchestra's world class reputation, according to Lester.

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"We can't retain and attract talented musicians if our benefits continue to fall," Lester claims. "And that also includes salary. Salary is falling relative to our other major orchestras."

But Alexander counters that the minimum salaries they offer are competitive.

"The minimum annual salary for a member of the orchestra is just over $159, 000," he says. "In our proposal that figure would increase over a three-year period."

Tuesday afternoon the orchestra announced that concerts originally scheduled from Thursday, March 14 through Saturday, March 16 at Symphony Center are canceled due to the strike. The two sides are set to meet on Friday.

Copyright 2019 WBEZ Chicago. To see more, visit WBEZ Chicago.

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