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Chicago Lyric Opera Musicians Strike

Musicians Reject Cuts to Orchestra Size, Season Length & Wages

In response to management’s demands for radical cuts, the Lyric Opera of Chicago musicians went on strike today. Opera management wants to eliminate five musicians from the orchestra, slash musicians’ pay by 8%, reduce the length of the season, and end the opera’s radio broadcasts.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago’s budget has skyrocketed from $60.4 million in 2012 to $84.5 million in 2017—but musicians have not shared in that $24 million increase. The musician’s share of the budget has actually decreased from 14.6% in 2012 to 11.9% in 2017. Musicians’ weekly salaries have increased an average of less than 1% per year since 2011. Wages have actually decreased by 5.1% since 2011 when adjusted for inflation.

Musicians are fighting to maintain the number of orchestra musicians, for cost of living increases, and to preserve benefits and working conditions. The musicians’ last proposal to management tied wage increases directly to the rate of inflation. This is in stark contrast to Anthony Freud, the opera’s general director, who has seen his compensation rise 18% from 2014 to 2017. Freud received a 16% raise in 2016—right after musicians agreed to a cost-neutral contract with cuts to their health care.

Freud is now leading the charge to gut the orchestra. Management’s proposed salary cuts would cost each musician $6,000; Freud, with his $800,000 annual salary, gets paid that much every three days.

Over the past 65 years, Chicago’s citizens, civic leaders, and philanthropists built a world-class opera company for a world-class city. The Lyric Opera of Chicago musicians are a key part of that success, but management’s cuts would decimate the orchestra and forever diminish the opera.

Chicago musicians are on strike because they will not, and cannot, accept a Lyric Opera of Chicago that is nothing but a pale shadow of its former self. If Anthony Freud and his crew abdicate their responsibility as the stewards of this organization, then the musicians will gladly take up that cause.