The Daily Parker

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San Antonio loses an orchestra

The San Antonio Symphony dissolved itself yesterday, to howls of anger from its musicians:

The board of the Symphony Society of San Antonio cited stalled negotiations with the Musicians’ Union and the lack of a labour contract.

In a statement on the San Antonio Symphony’s website, the board said: “The last bargaining session between the Symphony Society and the Musicians’ Union took place on March 8, 2022 after which the Union declined to return to the bargaining table, despite efforts of federal mediators and the Symphony.

The symphony’s musicians had been on strike since late September 2021, when they were asked to take a pay cut from $35,774 (£29,097) to $17,710 (£14,404) a year.

In September Mary Ellen Goree, chair of the San Antonio Symphony musicians negotiating committee and principal second violin, said musicians had been “shocked and appalled” by the proposal, which would have reduced their salaries to less than the living wage.

Goree suggested the board's move might violate an existing contract:

She cited a 2019 contract that specifies what needs to be done if there is a dissolution of the San Antonio Symphony Society, the board that manages the symphony.

She read an excerpt of the document to TPR: “Such transfer of assets shall be subject to the approval of the Union and the members of the orchestra, as well as the Board of Directors of the society.”

The only vote taken was within the Symphony Society.

The news reached Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the symphony's former music director, during a visit to South Korea. He said the move by management was indefensible.

“It's totally in contradiction with the mission of the San Antonio Symphony, and they need to be held accountable for that," he said. "By just dissolving now and ... to blame to the musicians is a very arrogant move.”

The union's own statement calls out the Symphony Board for financial mismanagement:

“What the Symphony can afford,” of course, is directly tied to what the leadership of the Symphony Society is willing to raise. It is telling that the past 30+ years have been an unbroken trend of the San Antonio metropolitan area becoming larger and larger, and the Symphony budget becoming smaller and smaller. Given our population growth and the number of corporations either headquartered or doing significant business in San Antonio, the idea that San Antonio cannot support an orchestra even at the level of Omaha, Nebraska (an orchestra with a $9M budget), is ludicrous.

On September 26, 2021, the SSSA wrongfully declared impasse and imposed draconian terms that would reduce the size of the orchestra by 40%, cut the pay (already barely above a living wage) of the remaining 60% by 33%, and offer most of the remaining 40% of the musicians a salary of just over $11,000 a year with no benefits. Agreeing to such terms would have been meant agreeing to our own destruction, so on September 27, the musicians called an unfair labor practice strike.

There seems to be a lot more to this story, and I'm curious if anyone down there might commit some journalism to finding out what.

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