CHICAGO (CelebrityAccess) — On Monday, musicians with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike after negotiations between the Chicago Federation of Musicians and the Orchestra Association’s Board of Trustees broke down over the weekend.
“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, the Chair of the Musicians of the CSO negotiating committee, said in a statement.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the association had proposed changing the musician’s retirement plan from a traditional defined benefit pension to a direct contribution plan like a 401k.
Management for the orchestra said supporting the pension program became increasingly onerous, while musicians said the pension system was an important aspect of the orchestra’s ability to retain talented performers.
“There’s no denying that a pension is an expensive benefit,” Stephen Lester, CSO bassist and chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee, told the Tribune on Monday. “However, we feel that if it had been properly funded in the first place, it wouldn’t have been nearly as expensive as they’re claiming it is. And also that the pension benefit is the best investment they can make in the future of the orchestra.”
However, CSOA President Jeff Alexander told the Tribune in an emailed interview that the money was just not there.
“It’s an amount of cash that we just don’t have to put into the fund,” Alexander told the newspaper. He also pointed to low interest rates and longer lives.
“When interest rates are very low, which they’ve been for the last 10 years, the payments into the funds have to be much higher. These are IRS calculations,” Alexander told the Tribune. “About two years ago, the official mortality tables were updated, and, of course, people are living longer. And those two factors combined have changed the amount of money we have to put into the plan.”
Another point of contention in the contract negotiations is salary. The with the CSO 2019-20 suggested annual base pay of $163,818, the orchestra is ahead of other major orchestras such as the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic, but behind others such as teh San Francisco Orchestra and the and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
“The most difficult aspect is this is a declining path,” Union spokesman Steve Lester told the newspaper. “We used to be ahead of those orchestras 10 years ago. Now we’re barely even with one and way behind on the other two. The association wants to keep us on this declining path. We are not a second-rate orchestra.