OPERA NEWS - Lyric Opera of Chicago Forced to Cancel Performances Amid Contract Dispute with Labor Union Representing Orchestra
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10 October 2018

Lyric Opera of Chicago Forced to Cancel Performances Amid Contract Dispute with Labor Union Representing Orchestra

LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO announced today that a labor dispute with the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local #10-208—the union representing members of its orchestra—has resulted in a work stoppage that has forced the company to cancel its Thursday evening performance of La Bohème as well as Saturday's opening night performance of Idomeneo. 

The cancellations came just days into Lyric Opera's sixty-fourth season, and, with no new contract negotiations scheduled between Lyric Opera administrators and the union representatives, it remains unclear if upcoming mainstage performances will take place as scheduled. 

“We’re very disappointed that the orchestra decided that it was appropriate to strike,” Lyric Opera's general director Anthony Freud told the Chicago Tribune. “We were in mid-negotiations. We are working very hard to ensure that Lyric will have a successful future.”

A statement issued yesterday by the company read: “We apologize for the inconvenience and losses this disruption creates for our patrons, donors, partners and other dedicated employees, and are doing everything possible to protect as much of our season. That said, Lyric simply cannot agree to the terms CFM demands, given our current financial circumstances. Our proposed changes are necessary to ensure Lyric’s survival as a world-class opera company providing a diverse range of cultural entertainment to communities throughout Chicago.” The Chicago Federation of musicians countered that the company's proposed cuts would leave Lyric Opera “a pale shadow of its former self.”

According to Lyric Opera's statement, negotiations over a new contract with the Chicago Federation of Musicians broke down after the company reportedly offered its players wage increases while seeking several concessions from the union that would have brought guaranteed pay into alignment with financial constraints facing company. At issue are proposed terms of the new contract that would amount to reduction in guaranteed work weeks; a reduction—through attrition and voluntary retirement—to the number of orchestral players guaranteed wages during each performance, regardless of whether they actually perform; and an end to guaranteed fees for eight, live radio broadcasts of Lyric Opera performances that will no longer take place as a result of lack of sponsorship. Lyric Opera's previous contact with its orchestral musicians expired on June 30. 

The company reported that its contractual stipulations are necessitated by a number of factors, including the changing composition of its revenue, a decline in ticket sales and adjustments to the number of performances it offers each season as a consequence of decreased audience demand. Likewise Lyric Opera said that the increased flexibility of a new contract with CFM would allow the company to generate additional income by renting out its home, the Civic Opera House. 

In taking the unusual step of publicizing the terms of its proposals before an agreement has been reached, Lyric reported that during its 2016-17 season, it paid $1.8 million in contractually guaranteed wages—not including the costs of benefits—to orchestra members for work weeks in which Lyric did not present a performance. A statement issued today by Lyric Opera claims that the terms of its new contract with CFM only seek to reduce a fraction of these payments.

“Put simply, Lyric’s current contract requires Lyric to pay musicians for twenty-four weeks of work when its season is only twenty weeks,” read the statement issued by the company. “This weekly pay guarantee dates back more than ten years, when Lyric had eighty-six performances in its season. In Lyric’s current season, only fifty-six performances are scheduled because that’s the maximum number supported by audience demand. Lyric needs to align musicians’ weekly guarantees with the length of the season.” The company's board chairman, David Ormesher, also told the Chicago Tribune that it had seen seen subscription revenues decline from $20 million a decade ago to nearly $13 million this year, requiring Lyric Opera to make up the difference with single ticket sales. Additionally, the Tribune reported that a reduction in contributions and grants to the Lyric Opera contributed to a decline in the company's revenue to approximately $62.5 during the fiscal year that ended in mid-2017 from about $90.5 million in 2014. The Tribune noted that ticket sales at Lyric Opera of Chicago grew $25.03 million in 2012 to $25.95 million in 2018—a result that company administrators attribute to the addition of musical-theater productions to the season. 

Lyric Opera of Chicago has already negotiated new contracts with its two other unions—the American Guild of Musical Artists and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Lyric's statement on Tuesday urged the Chicago Federation of Musicians to continue negotiating an to end the strike. spacer 

More information can be found at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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