By: Stephen Lester, CSO string bassist since 1978
As I am sure most everybody is aware, after months of difficult negotiations, and playing without a contract for the first two weeks of the season, the Musicians of the Orchestra, through their Negotiating Committee and Union, came to an agreement with the CSOA on a new contract. Despite that neither negotiating team was happy with the results, everyone sighed a deep sigh of relief!
It became apparent towards the end of negotiations that what was at stake was not just the incredibly small amounts of money separating the two sides at the end, but rather a simple fact: in the current climate of uneasy donors, management upheavals, and the relentless propaganda about the demise of “classical music,” a strike would have been devastating to the organization and the Orchestra. Compromise is never easy; but when faced with the alternative, compromise is often essential. We applaud our employer for recognizing this.
We could spend a good deal of time in an effort to dissect the results, trace the causes, and try to analyze the motivations. But at the end of the day, the fact of agreement is enough (for now).
Curiously, the major impetus for compromise came from two sources, one outside the process and one inside. Though not involved in a material way with the negotiations, our Music Director, Riccardo Muti, played a crucial role. He advocates as no one can for the value and integrity of what the orchestra does. His comments from the stage, in the press, and to the musicians, show deep passion for our profession and art, and form an impressive argument that effectively counters negative portrayals of American orchestras. We are extremely grateful for his help.
The other impetus for compromise came from the Federal Mediator assigned to our negotiations, Javier Ramirez, who proved to be a tremendous help. Javier readily sensed how the small numbers the parties were dealing with masked a deep philosophical schism – not just between employer and employee, but in what an art form is and how to nurture and sustain it. That showed remarkable sensitivity and intelligence. As an example of our tax dollars at work, we say Bravo!
The Orchestra members showed incredible strength and unity in this process, and as is often the case, a silver lining appeared during this difficult process. Our members have become much more self aware as an Orchestra. As you are enjoying this newsletter, and hopefully our website and Facebook page, we hope you can see how we want to communicate with everyone directly. We want you to know us as musicians and as members of the Chicago community. We want to introduce you to our lives, both professionally and, to a certain degree, personally. We hope that in the months and years to come, you will see and hear more of us, as an orchestra and as people. So please, as Maestro Muti says, “stay close to your orchestra!”