Orchestral Maneuvers: Has Henry Fogel Learned a Lesson?

The 12-hour bargaining session that ended the two-week-old Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike last week was interrupted for a moment by the Brownie Woman, a concerned CSO musician who arrived with a chocolate treat for negotiators on both sides. The brownies added a sweet touch to what was otherwise a bitter hour for CSO executive director Henry Fogel.

The strike that canceled the first ten concerts of the symphony’s 101st season, the first with music director Daniel Barenboim, had been precipitated in large part by Fogel’s insistence that the musicians start paying a substantial portion of their health insurance premiums. The musicians walked away from last Thursday’s negotiations with a new three-year contract that included modest salary increases in each year of the contract and left insurance-premium payments entirely in Fogel’s hands. Management, however, won the fight to offer musicians a preferred-provider policy and to raise deductibles and copayments on non-preferred-provider policies, concessions Fogel said will help slow the rising cost of health insurance to 10 to 15 percent a year instead of 20 to 25 percent.

Until the last round of talks began, it seemed neither Fogel nor the musicians would budge from their entrenched stands on the health insurance issue. When Fogel arrived at last week’s meeting, though, he brought new proposals that no longer insisted on insurance-premium payments from the players. “That demand just suddenly disappeared,” said one mystified member of the musicians’ nine-person negotiating team.

Fogel’s about-face broke the stalemate, but it also raised a few troubling questions. “My goal,” said Fogel earlier this week, “was to involve the musicians in some way in the cost of their medical care and get those costs down,” a goal he says was achieved in the settlement. Throughout the talks, the musicians say, Fogel insisted his stance was the result of a mandate from the orchestra’s board of trustees. But privately the musicians suspect Fogel may have hoped to put a feather in his cap by becoming the first orchestra manager in the nation to win concessions on health insurance premium payments, a move that would have established Fogel as an ace negotiator and created new guidelines for orchestra negotiations elsewhere. If, on the other hand, Fogel was executing a mandate from his board of directors, the board apparently wasn’t willing to stick to its guns, leaving Fogel the fall guy.

Whatever the case, the strike’s resolution has not brought about complete harmony. When the two sides sit down again three years hence, Fogel will have to remember that the musicians are not a force to be taken lightly. He must also be prepared to demonstrate further down the line–when the orchestra could face far graver financial concerns–the finesse it takes to rally a unionized body to his side instead of trying to wrest major concessions from them. In the wake of the strike the musicians are saying they might have been willing to work with Fogel on the health insurance matter if he had begun to talk to them about it earlier, before it became a sticking point. However Fogel approaches contract talks the next time, the musicians now know they’ll have some leverage at the bargaining table.

Cash Crunch at the League of Chicago Theatres

The beleaguered League of Chicago Theatres is searching for a way out of its financial morass. In a blunt letter recently mailed to the League’s membership, executive director Keryl McCord explained the trade association’s difficult financial situation and ways it may be improved. Member theaters still owe the League about $30,000 for dues and various services. For a quick fix to the cash-flow crunch, McCord has sought but not yet obtained a line of credit for the organization. The League is also aiming to increase Hot Tix sales 24 percent during the current fiscal year to compensate for an increase in the fees paid to Ticketmaster, which runs the Hot Tix computer, under a contract signed last April. The League recently added Hot Tix services at six Rose Records outlets around the city and suburbs, but so far sales have not increased dramatically. Other options McCord said the League is considering include a one-time assessment from members based on a percentage of their dues, a permanent dues increase, and a 25-cent increase in the Hot Tix service charge. The League board will meet on October 14 to decide whether the $600,000 budget for the current fiscal year (down from $700,000 the previous year) is realistic or needs to be reduced even further. The League has already laid off two staffers.

Prism Closing: Youth-Culture Backlash?

The five-year-old Prism Art and Performance Centre has closed its doors at 620 Davis Street in Evanston. Prism manager Kim Ione Taubensee maintains the organization lost its lease because landlord Dick Nash did not like the crowds of adolescents drawn to the gallery’s jazz, rock, and performance-art events. Prism was one of the few live entertainment options available to Evanston kids, according to Taubensee, who sees Prism’s closure as part of a larger suburban backlash against the current youth culture. Nash wasn’t interested in responding to Taubensee’s comments. “She’s trying to harass me,” said Nash. “Whatever she’s telling you is OK with me.” Taubensee hopes to raise enough money to reopen Prism in a location on the near north side of Chicago.

Restaurant Report

The Chicago restaurant scene is springing back to life this fall. Among the more interesting developments is the unveiling of Vivo, an Italian cafe in the heart of the market district at 838 W. Randolph; it’s owned and designed by Jerry Kleiner, one of the owners of the nightclub Shelter. Hale De Mar’s OakTree restaurant, long a popular fixture at the comer of Oak and Rush, has reopened on the sixth floor of the Bloomingdale’s building at 900 N. Michigan. And the Hyatt Regency Chicago has added a musical twist to its Sunday brunch in the All Seasons Cafe: diners will find a tuxedoed pianist in the kitchen serenading them while they await their freshly made omelettes.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.