Updated at 10:45 a.m.
Musicians at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were on the picket line Monday morning after talks with management on a new three-year contract broke down Sunday night.
The musicians walked out after completing a Sunday afternoon concert and negotiating all evening. The contract expired in September of 2018 and was extended to Sunday.
“We have been clear from the beginning that we will not accept a contract that diminishes the well-being of members or imperils the future of the orchestra,” Steve Lester, a double bass player and chairman of the musicians’ negotiating committee, said in a news release Sunday night.
The contract dispute between the Chicago Federation of Musicians and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) is mainly over a proposed change to the musicians’ pension plan.
“The core difference between our plan and their proposal is that our plan keeps the guaranteed retirement benefit funded by the Association that has been the hallmark of the Orchestra’s benefits package (and those of other leading orchestras) for over 50 years,” said Cynthia Yeh, a percussionist and member of the negotiating committee.
She said the pension plan change drops the “guaranteed benefit and shifts the investment risk to the individual member.”
The musicians also accuse management of demanding concessions including reduced sabbatical weeks and substitute pay, and eliminating a $3,000 annual individual pension supplement.
The CSOA released a statement Sunday night saying it was “disappointed” with the musicians’ decision to strike. The association said it has offered wage increases and a “generous transition” from the latest pension plan to a new one.
The CSOA defended the pension change saying, “we believe we must secure both the musicians’ future and that of the Association’s by updating our pension structure and agreeing on a complete compensation package that is sustainable. It would be irresponsible for the Board to continue to authorize a pension program that jeopardizes the Orchestra’s future.”
The symphony said it would keep patrons informed if the strike causes concert cancellations. The CSO’s next scheduled performance is Thursday.