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Chicago Federation of Musicians May Strike Again: This Time at the CSO

photo by Avery Studio

The Chicago Federation of Musicians has had a busy few months, after the well-publicized strike at Lyric Opera in October, it has been confirmed that the orchestra members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, represented by CFM, will strike if a deal isn’t made by March 10th.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, the musicians’ union began negotiating a new labor agreement 11 months ago, and their old contract, which expired in September, was extended to March 10.

“We want a fair and competitive contract,” Stephen Lester, the chairman of the union’s negotiating committee said. “The overwhelming vote to strike was driven by management’s insistence on reducing benefits and offering inadequate compensation.”

Representatives from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association — the CSO’s management — said in an email statement Thursday that they’re committed to reaching an agreement allowing the organization to “remain financially sustainable long into the future, while also generously supporting the musicians and their future.”

This marks a similar trend to the discourse surrounding the Lyric Opera Orchestra strike back in October. It seems that both organizations are restructuring towards sustainable budgeting, and both orchestras have jumped on this moment to negotiate wages.

The last time they striked it was covered intensely by local outlets including CBS local, who noted that they make well over 6 figures a year.

“They currently make a minimum of $144,000 per year. In the final year of this contract they would have a base minimum wage of over $150,000. I say base minimum because there are overages; so, in fact, in this year – when they make $144,000 – the average salary of a Chicago Symphony Orchestra musician is $173,000,” said CSO Association President Deborah Rutter.

Lyric Opera’s Orchestra, on the other hand, was negotiating at a different rate, where the agreement the Opera House had come to with its musicians was below $100,00 for a season of work.

“Under the new contract proposal, Lyric is offering average annual take home wages of $82,500 per orchestra member for 22 weeks of work and 20 hours of work per week,” Lyric Opera said. “Any work over 20 hours per week is paid as overtime.”

The CSO is among the the highest-paid American orchestras, ranked third since the 2015-2016 season when the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony raised wages.

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