Walk-Out By Chicago Symphony Orchestra Players Adds To Nation-Wide Trend Of Contract Disputes

Musicians at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike this weekend after failing to resolve contract disputes with the orchestra's association. Disagreements over wages and healthcare benefits prompted the musicians to walk-out before their scheduled concert Saturday night, turning to picketing rather than playing as negotiations remain strained.

According to an article by Reuters, the strike was initiated in response to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association's proposal to raise musicians' contributions to their healthcare costs. The musicians, whose preexisting contracts expired on September 16th, believe this move would deplete any potential wage increases and cut compensation overall. They rejected a three-year contract offered by the association that would have provided them with a base salary of $2,795 in the first year, $2,835 in the second and $2,910 in the third, according to a statement released by the CSO. The previous contract afforded them a weekly base minimum salary of $2,785.

“The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association is extremely disappointed that the musicians have decided to strike,” Deborah Rutter, president of the association, said in a statement published in The L.A. Times. “Looking around the country, it’s clear that the more prudent path would be to work with us to ensure their future, rather than engage in this action.”

The Chicago Tribune reports that bargaining sessions are scheduled to resume Monday afternoon, aided by a federal mediator who has been working with both parties throughout the contract talks. The orchestra has stated that unless an agreement is reached by Tuesday, the group will not be performing at their next scheduled concert the following day.

"I think we were all surprised," said CSO bass player Stephen Lester to The Chicago Tribune. "The negotiating committee had gone more than we wanted to go to try to get a deal, and their last actions sent a very clear and distinct message that they were not interested in an agreement. They tried to force a strike, to force a wedge between the members of the orchestra and the community we serve."

For more on the plight of orchestras in the US, check out our coverage of the Minnesota, Indianapolis, and Atlanta orchestras.

Check out a slideshow below of some of the top orchestras in the US. Let us know your favorite in the comments section.

Top US Orchestras