That was quick

Maybe not the shortest orchestral strike on record, but likely close to it:

They entered the negotiating room in the Chicago Symphony Association’s lawyer’s office at 2 p.m. Monday, and by about 6:45 p.m. a tentative agreement had been reached in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first musicians strike in 21 years.

The orchestra announced shortly before 8 p.m. that the CSO musicians and management had reached an accord for a three-year collective bargaining agreement, to take effect retroactively on Sept. 17. The previous contract expired Sept. 16…

As for the negotiations, which took place at the DLA Piper law firm on North LaSalle Street, [chair of the Orchestra Members Committee Steve] Lester said, “Both sides showed a willingness to bridge gaps.”

“This was an extremely difficult process, and it took hard work on both sides, but we’ve reached an agreement we can live with,” said bassoonist William Buchman, who was on the negotiating committee.

I find short strikes harder to interpret than long ones, which are generally about differences between the parties that are truly unbridgeable until both feel considerable pain. Very little movement is likely over the course of one afternoon from either side. But, if the parties were that close before the strike, it’s reasonable to ask why  that small gap couldn’t have been bridged without a strike.

In those situations, it’s often not just about the proposals on the table, but how one or both parties feel they’ve been treated by the other side. If the musicians felt that management had adopted a “take it or leave it” stance without going as far as they could have, a strike could feel justified simply to make management understand that the musicians wouldn’t automatically take it – which is to say that strikes can be as much about the process as about the deal itself.

That’s not to say that’s what happened in Chicago, of course. But whatever happened, it’s good that neither side is sounding triumphant about the result and that the CSO will be back at work. Another long strike would not have been good for our industry.


About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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