Chicago Symphony Orchestra Musicians Strike

On Saturday, 9/22/2012 the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) called a strike exactly one hour before a concert scheduled that evening for 8:0pm CT. A brief message from the CSO musicians’ negotiating committee to their members asserts the following:

Despite our good faith efforts to agree on terms acceptable to the Association and despite our agreements in fact on a broad range of issues sought by the Association, crucial economic issues for the musicians remain unresolved. While we agree to continue negotiations, we will withhold our services until the interests of our Members are satisfied. We are on strike effective Saturday, September 22, at 7:00 pm.

The CSO provided an official statement at their website which contained additional details about their most recently rejected offer. The CSO musicians launched their only official communications outlet, a Facebook page, late the evening of 9/23/2011 and do not have an official website or Twitter account update: the CSO musicians did open a Twitter account after this article was written.

However, you can uncover additional information behind what prompted the strike along with more recent comments from the CSO committee chair and bassist Stephen Lester and CSO president Deborah Rutter in an article from the 9/23/2012 edition of the Chicago Tribune by music critic John von Rhein. It was my pleasure to provide the compensation information to the Tribune for this article.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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2 thoughts on “Chicago Symphony Orchestra Musicians Strike”

  1. I can’t say I agree that the average income of 175k is “skewed upward” when the minimum for the orchestra is 144k. Without the figures I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing it’s skewed the opposite direction, considering the 400k the concertmaster makes. Anyone have the numbers on this?

    I admit I see this strike as similar to an NBA or MLB strike: well-paid individuals that aren’t striking over a living wage, but over fractions of their gross income. The musicians’ response to the challenge of garnering public support will be worth keeping an eye on.

  2. They seem to think that they have to prove they are the best by being paid the most. They should, instead, continue to prove they are the best in the concert hall and in the community. They are certainly capable of it. Time to dump the “second city” inferiority complex, CSO, even if the first city is now on the west coast.

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