Texas’s San Antonio Symphony Musicians Remain on Strike 

The strike started last year, after musicians voted down management’s “last, best, and final offer,” which would see the orchestra’s size reduced from 72 full-time musicians to 42

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(Image courtesy: San Antonio Express-News)

 

The San Antonio Symphony's (SAS) management last year proposed that the full orchestra would instead comprise 68 musicians.

As explained by SAS Executive Director Corey Cowart: “Forty-two would be full-time musicians and the remaining twenty-six would be what’s called ‘per service,’ part time as needed, with a guaranteed number of performances and pay.”

The Musicians of SAS (MOSAS) have since responded to that contract's terms in a letter they posted on their Facebook page part of which reads:

 

“Whatever orchestra is put on stage will not be the San Antonio Symphony our audiences have been coming to see. It will be an amputated orchestra plus whatever part time musicians will agree to play after many of our fine musicians have left town.

According to management's own proposal, the per-service musicians would receive no health insurance, no seniority pay, no paid sick leave or parental leave, and no Electronic Media Guarantee. Calling such a contract a 'Full Contract' is dishonest and intentionally misleading.”

 

Earlier this month, MOSAS began a renegotiation. They offered the Symphony Society of San Antonio the return of all musicians for the remainder of the 2022 season on the basis that they would be able to return to work with full benefits as agreed before the proposal by the SAS board. 

As outlined in a statement by MOSAS on their Facebook page, according to “new financial projections,” the funds required for such an agreement would be well within the society’s means.

However, a week later, their offer was declined. Executive Director Cowart maintained that SAS would continue to cancel concerts due to the musicians’ strike and provided “no counterproposal.”

With the support of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), MOSAS identified as AFM Local 23 as the negotiations continued. “The Symphony board members have now proven to the community beyond a shadow of a doubt that their true intent is to put an end to SAS,” said Richard Oppenheim, AFM Local 23’s president.

“Those entrusted with managing the future of one of the oldest symphony orchestras in the U.S. have thus assured its destruction,” stated Mary Ellen Goree, SAS Principal Second Violin and Negotiating Committee Chair of MOSAS. “Rejecting our proposal is a clear failure of leadership.”

According to MOSAS’s most recent official statement, “no musicians have been paid since September and the vacant artistic director position has been saving money.”

Further, in an open letter from the SAS to their patrons, they stated that MOSAS rejected their requests to “involve a mediator to assist in our negotiations.” The musicians’ union responded to this letter, seeing it as a condemnation for issues perpetrated by the SAS board.

As reported in San Antonio Express-News, even though concerts were being canceled, the symphony stated that they were becoming financially stronger compared with their past. This was due to federal COVID-relief funds between 2020 and 2021, as well as patron donations.

While this was the case, the financial state of the symphony is in a negative position, according to Cowart. “The federal funding has greatly helped,” he said. “In terms of our improving financials, the change is very small.” 

Despite this, MOSAS previously noted the projection by the symphony society of a surplus of $1.8 million by the end of the fiscal year in a financial statement for the ensemble. This was the basis from which MOSAS decided on their most recent offer.

“[This surplus] was projected at the beginning of December [2021],” MOSAS secretary Eric Siu told San Antonio Express-News. “Since then, at least three more weeks of concerts have been canceled,” Siu explained. “Every week we cancel, they [the society] save money.”

In response, Cowart expressed that for years, the symphony had begun each season under the position of having more liabilities than assets due to negative working capital. This, he says, would also mean that a “surplus” does not necessarily suggest extra funding. 

In response to the negotiations, not only have both sides filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, but MOSAS have rallied at the SAS concert hall — Tobin Center for Performing Arts — and held silent protests outside the homes of Cowart and Kathleen Weir Vale, chair of the symphony society.

 

(Image courtesy: San Antonio Current)

 

“Rejecting our offer is a clear indication that this [SAS] board and management have given up,” added Goree. “They should admit their failure and let others with more acumen and desire to see the SAS thrive bring a new era of energy and ideas.”

“A recent letter from the Musicians’ Union infers the Symphony Society is unwilling to negotiate; this is not accurate,” the SAS board wrote to their patrons. “We do, however, recognize that both parties remain very far apart.

“We still believe it’s critical to get all parties in a discussion of what is possible to bring our Symphony back to live performances and eventually move us into a position of ongoing sustainability,” the statement added. “We remain determined to find a contract all parties can live with.”

A podcast discussion between SAS Principal Trombone Steve Peterson and contrabassoonist Marty Gordon of the negotiations can be watched below: