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Still on strike: Gulf between San Antonio Symphony musicians and management widens

 Symphony protesters outside the Tobin Center
Symphony protesters outside the Tobin Center

The San Antonio Symphony musicians have been on strike for five weeks. The first two performances of the season are canceled and musicians and symphony management are filing grievances against one another. The impasse between the two is at its worst point thus far.

Last week the striking musicians filed several complaints with the National Labor Relations Board against the San Antonio Symphony Society management, and this week management has filed complaints with the same body concerning the union local 23. Both sides allege the other is not bargaining in good faith.

Management claims last May’s negotiations moderated by Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services Commissioners — called “interest-based bargaining”— weren’t taken seriously by the union. Violinist and negotiator Mary Ellen Goree remembers the sessions differently.

“We did, in good faith, go through the interest based bargaining training, and we did make our best efforts, but it was quite clear from early on that at least one of the federal mediators was biased towards the Symphony Society,” Goree said.

The whole disagreement stems from a re-negotiated third year of a three-year contract management had with the symphony players. That re-negotiation was spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the symphony’s performances, most of which were postponed last year.

In September, Management proposed cutting the 72-member full time orchestra back to 46 members, turning 26 into part-time workers without benefits. Also included were steep pay cuts for both. The union voted on the proposal, unanimously rejecting it.

On Sept. 27 San Antonio Symphony society imposed the new contract stipulations onto the symphony, and in response, musicians went on strike.

Now, a week later both sides have filed grievances and compromise seems out of reach. Goree questioned the symphony board’s efforts at finding the money it takes to support an orchestra.

“Over the last few weeks I have heard from and I have heard about quite a number of extremely wealthy people who would like to support the orchestra, who have never been asked,” she said.

Symphony management has sent a press release detailing their stand to TPR news, but has declined to speak.

Goree said as the impasse worsens, the dissolution of the orchestra has already begun. She said she knows several symphony musicians who have signed one-year contracts with other symphonies, and many more are practicing for auditions they expect to get to earn jobs with orchestras elsewhere. She hopes the board changes direction in the negotiations.

This path only leads to destruction. Think hard about staying with it,” Goree said. “It will not result in what you think it will result in.”

TPR contacted the Symphony Society’s attorney but he declined to speak on pending litigation.  

Copyright 2021 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Jack Morgan has spent 35 years in electronic media, doing both television and radio.