San Antonio Symphony Musicians strike over breakdown in contract talks

click to enlarge The San Antonio Symphony's musicians have gone on strike. - Courtesy of San Antonio Symphony
Courtesy of San Antonio Symphony
The San Antonio Symphony's musicians have gone on strike.
Amid contentious contract negotiations with the Symphony Society, the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony (MOSAS) announced Monday that it's called a strike.

The group took the action after the Symphony Society's vote Sunday declaring an impasse in negotiations and imposing the terms of its so-called "Last, Best and Final Offer," which would slash the orchestra's number of full-time members from 72 to 42. Under that proposal, 26 of the positions would be converted to part-time and four currently vacant positions would be eliminated, MOSAS Chair Mary Ellen Goree told the Current over the phone.

The proposal adopted by the Symphony Society on Sunday had been previously rejected in a unanimous vote by the Symphony's musicians. It came after an initial offer that would have slashed all Symphony musicians' wages by 50%.

"[The] American Federation of Musicians Local 23 is initiating a lawful strike in protest of the Symphony Society’s betrayal of the good faith the musicians have exercised during the pandemic, in protest of the Symphony board’s willful refusal to construct a mass appeal to the public and the business community for adequate funding for this season, and in protest of the Symphony’s bad faith bargaining in demanding these radical changes with no intention to bargain in good faith over the musicians’ reasonable proposals for solutions," the notice issued Monday reads.

The Symphony Society has repeatedly characterized its proposed payroll cuts as necessary to keep the organization solvent.

"To stabilize the organization and sustain it for the future, the Symphony must hold strong to only spending what we can afford," Symphony Society Chair Kathleen Weir Vale said in a statement emailed to the Current Monday. "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."

The local union chapter also is asking the American Federation of Musicians to include the San Antonio Symphony on its international unfair list and advise AFM members not to perform for the orchestra.

In the statement announcing its strike, MOSAS asked supporters of the orchestra not to attend "purported Symphony performances by musicians who are not the true San Antonio Symphony musicians."

The last time San Antonio Symphony musicians went on strike was in 1985, according to MOSAS.

"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,” Goree said in her emailed statement.

"My colleagues and I refuse to be complicit in destroying the orchestra and betraying our colleagues by removing their jobs and benefits."

In early September, MOSAS proposed working with the Symphony Society on an aggressive fundraising campaign to avoid personnel cuts. However, the Symphony Society told the Current that it didn't consider such a campaign a viable option.

"There is no evidence these repeated emergency campaigns serve our organization, our musicians, our donors, and our patrons for the long term," Vale said in a statement at the time.

Though the 2021-2022 season was covered under the third year of a collective bargaining agreement ratified in 2019, the Symphony's musicians agreed in January to reopen contract negotiations before the season beginning September 1, 2021.

Due to the pandemic, the musicians had voluntarily accepted an 80% pay cut for the 2020-2021 season, which expired at midnight on August 31, 2021.

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