It seems like every orchestra season, at least one ensemble across the country goes on strike. These strikes often involve some of the country's smaller orchestras, but earlier this year one of the BIGGEST orchestras decided that they weren't going to accept current conditions.
Before I go any further, I'd like to acknowledge that I believe in dignity and fair pay for EVERYONE - musicians and non-musicians alike. My issue with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike wasn't that people weren't getting paid fairly, but that people getting paid MORE than fairly felt like they deserved backing from marginalized musicians. Let's take a quick look at a couple facts I pulled from this article:
• In 2014, there were 1,224 U.S. orchestras, distributed widely across all 50 states (NCAR and OSR).
• In the same year, the orchestra field contributed $1.8 billion to the U.S. economy in direct payments for goods and services (NCAR and OSR).
• Two out of every three orchestras operated with annual expenses budgets of under $300,000, in 2014 (NCAR and OSR).
It's very important to pay attention to that last statistic. With most orchestras operating under $300k a year, this means most orchestra musicians make between $4,000-$6,000/year (my quick math - please correct me if you find something that says otherwise). Keep those numbers in mind as you look at the numbers represented in this article, that outlined the terms and reasons behind the strike:
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) has offered its musicians a 5-percent pay raise spread out over a three-year contract that would raise the minimum pay to $167,000. The players are asking for a 12.5-percent increase for a starting salary of $178,000. According to the CSOA, more than a third of the veteran musicians already earn $187,000 and many take on added work at Symphony Center that elevates their income beyond $200,000.
If you take a look at the actual article, you'll see that the ACTUAL point of contention is a pension plan. That's fine, but let's face it - most folks will never have access to anything close to the plan those musicians had.
Conversations surrounding the difficulty and cost of being a musician always come up when people complain about the CSO's rate of pay, but I have to remind you that those challenges and costs are the same for people in MOST orchestras - you know, the ones making less than a third of what the CSO musicians went on strike over. The argument I'm always faced with when I bring these issues up is, "Treating the best orchestras well will set a precedent for the rest of us - trickle down".
The strike ended yesterday, and you can read more about that here. A few of my followers asked my opinions about this, so there you have it. Chicago's Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, made a great point in his involvement:
“These are great artists and musicians who make a tremendous contribution….You have all the waiters and waitresses around the restaurants that are dependent on a successful symphony. You have the stagehands who aren’t artists, but also make the show work. These peoples’ livelihoods are also affected”
So why weren't they the focus? Why are my heart strings supposed to be pulled by musicians on the sidewalk, instruments in hand, with more money in their accounts than I'll make this year?
I wonder what the Chicago Symphony Orchestra does for its surrounding neighborhoods, and how much energy they put into the smaller organizations that are supposed to support them. Where are the picket signs for the musicians going on strike for much, much less? Are there black people in the CSO?
That's all I got.