San Antonio Symphony musicians go on strike for first time since 1985

Musicians refuse proposal to reduce orchestra size, lower wages, lose healthcare benefits

SAN ANTONIO – Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony have called a strike, effective Monday. The last time symphony musicians went on strike was in 1985.

According to a news release, the musicians turned down a “last, best an final offer” from the San Antonio Symphony Society that would reduce the orchestra from 72 full-time musicians to 42 “core” musicians, with four currently vacant positions to be eliminated. The society also proposed that 26 musicians, based on seniority, would perform “per service” at a base wage of $125/service with a minimum 90 services to be offered, for an annual wage of $11,250. A “service” is a rehearsal or performance. All 26 musicians would lose health care benefits.

Mary Ellen Goree, chair of The Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony, said she and her colleagues feel beat down after years of accepting pay cuts with promises of restitution.

“I am stunned and disappointed that our management and board would take such an action without any good faith attempt whatsoever to partner with the musicians to raise the funds necessary to keep the San Antonio Symphony on stage,” she said. “My colleagues and I refuse to be complicit in destroying the orchestra and betraying our colleagues by removing their jobs and benefits.”

According to the news release, MOSAS agreed in January to reopen contract negotiations before the third season of their contract began on Sept. 1. Musicians had accepted an 80% pay cut for the 2020-2021 season in light of the pandemic and previously agreed to reopen the third year due to the uncertainties of the pandemic and lack of a vaccine at the time that agreement was reached.

On Sept. 3, MOSAS, through the American Federation of Musicians Local 23, sent a note to the Society board and management asking them to join forces with musicians in a mass public awareness and fundraising campaign in “a dynamic spirit of collaboration and joint endeavor between you and us as joint stakeholders in the fate of the SAS.”

The Symphony Society responded that such a campaign was a waste of time as no additional money was to be found in San Antonio, the news release said.

On Sept. 19, MOSAS sent a pre-Grievance Complaint to Symphony Society executive director Corey Cowart underscoring that the purpose was to address possible changes to the season and salaries due to the pandemic. The complaint accuses the Symphony Society of using COVID-19 as an excuse to force financial issues stemming from funding problems beginning long before the pandemic.

The Symphony Society released the following statement regarding the negotiations:

“The Symphony Society of San Antonio recently declared an impasse regarding their third-year CBA reopener negotiations. The Board of Directors and the Board Negotiating Committee voted to implement its last, best, and final offer effective today. The Symphony intends to honor and comply with all provisions of the third year CBA, except for those provisions outlined in management’s latest proposal.

“To stabilize the organization and sustain it for the future, the Symphony must hold strong to only spending what we can afford,” said Kathleen Weir Vale, Symphony Society of San Antonio Chair. “The musicians are the heart of the Symphony, and so we are committed to continuing to bargain with the Union until we reach a mutually agreeable contract. Only together can we keep orchestral music a vital component in the San Antonio community.”

Management’s last, best and final offer, also referred to as management proposal #5, includes a compliment of 68 musicians—42 core musicians and 26, full contract per service musicians. The Society will fill core and per service positions based on seniority plus titled position by section. The board negotiating committee remains willing to continue negotiations with the musicians’ union to attempt to reach mutually agreeable revisions to the third year of the CBA.

At this time, all concerts remain scheduled as planned. The Symphony’s scheduled season opener remains scheduled for Oct. 29, 2021.”

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