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Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians on strike

A ghost glow shines way an empty stage after Chicago Symphony Orchestrmusicians go strike forcing CSO cancel Saturday night's performance.

A ghost glow shines the way to an empty stage after the Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians go on strike, forcing the CSO to cancel Saturday night's performance. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 24, 2012 6:55AM

More than 100 Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians went on strike Saturday, infuriating patrons who came to Orchestra Hall expecting a show and upsetting world-renowned conductor Riccardo Muti.

The CSO canceled the 8 p.m. concert less than two hours before the scheduled start. It was the first Saturday night show of the 2012-2013 season.

“I think it’s despicable,” said subscriber Alvin Beatty, who came with his wife and a cousin who flew in from Florida. “. . . They are thumbing their noses at the people who pay them.”

Beatty, 80, of Evanston, said he was reconsidering his donations to the famed orchestra: “The CSO is the beneficiary of half of my estate. I’m going to tell you I’m going to rethink it.”

Muti could not be reached for comment. CSO association President Deborah Rutter said Muti “is very, very disappointed not to be conducting a concert, and he cares very much for the musicians. . . . He is mostly concerned for the patrons tonight.”

The strike is the first by CSO musicians since 1991. Although their contract expired last Sunday, the orchestra played opening night Thursday and a free concert Friday in Millennium Park. But contract negotiations broke down Saturday, officials said.

Rutter said the current average salary of CSO musicians, who have a base salary of $145,000, is $173,000. An offer that would have paid musicians a base salary of $151,000 in the final year of the contract was “the last, best and final contract [offer and] would have kept the members of the CSO orchestra among the best compensated in a U.S. orchestra.”

But Steve Lester, a string bass player and chairman of the CSO members committee, said a “tremendous increase” in health-care costs would mean a compensation cut for some.

“We got to the point where there was absolutely no movement from the association, no willingness to accommodate,” he said Saturday night outside Orchestra Hall.

Rutter said the offer would have required musicians to increase their contribution to a health-care plan to 12 percent from 5 percent of its $18,000 cost — about a $1,200 increase.

But she said orchestra revenues are growing at “small percentages” while expenses are growing at a “much steeper pace.”

She also said the union rejected a proposed three-year contract that would have paid musicians a minimum base weekly salary of $2,795, with increases to $2,835 and $2,910 in years two and three. The current base is $2,785.

“The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association is committed to working diligently and negotiating in good faith with the Union to achieve a new collective bargaining agreement that provides a sustainable platform for jobs with competitive wages, benefits and work rules,” the CSO said in a written statement.

No more contracts talks have been scheduled.

People who purchased tickets to Saturday’s performance can exchange them for another show, donate their tickets or receive a refund by calling the box office at (312) 294-3000, officials said.

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