Chicago Symphony musicians strike over wages, healthcare share

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 23, 2012 11:50 AM

(Reuters) - Musicians at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike after failing to reach an agreement on wages and healthcare benefits, prompting the cancellation of a Saturday night concert, the association that runs the orchestra said.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association said in a statement that the union representing the 109-member orchestra had rejected a three-year contract that would have raised the weekly $2,785 base salary to $2,795 in the first year, $2,835 the second year and $2,910 the third year.

The association also proposed raising musicians' contributions to their healthcare costs to 12 percent from 5 percent under the last contract. Musician negotiators said that would have more than wiped out the proposed wage increase, cutting compensation overall.

Deborah Rutter, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, said it was committed to reaching a fair agreement with the musicians but must manage its finances carefully to avoid the large deficits and bankruptcies faced by other U.S. orchestras in recent years.

"The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association is extremely disappointed that the musicians have decided to strike," Rutter said in a statement. "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."

Bassist Stephen Lester, chairman of the Orchestra Members Committee that is negotiating for the musicians, denied that the musicians had walked out on the bargaining.

"We remain anxious to conclude an agreement with the association, and we regret very much that this has affected concerts for the public and for our music director, Maestro (Riccardo) Muti, and we hope that the situation can be resolved soon," the Chicago Tribune quoted him as saying.

The orchestra's contract expired on September 16, but concerts took place as scheduled on Thursday and Friday. The symphony association said only the Saturday night concert had been canceled, for now. The next scheduled performance is Wednesday night.

(Reporting by Jane Sutton; editing by Philip Barbara)