Updated: Jun 21
The Symphony Society’s declaration of Chapter 7 bankruptcy yesterday, unhappy news though it was, did not come as much of a surprise to those of us closely involved in the events of the past year. Our board and management have been making it crystal clear for a long time that their long-term goal was the reduction of the San Antonio Symphony from the full-sized, full-time, fully professional orchestra that San Antonio has enjoyed for 83 years to a part-time, downsized orchestra of the type found in much smaller cities. When the musicians refused to participate in our own destruction, our board and management elected to burn the house down rather than move from their insupportable position.
First, some corrections of fact. From sasymphony dot org: The Musicians’ Union has made it clear there is no prospect of the resumption of negotiations, absent the Board agreeing to a budget that is millions of dollars in excess of what the Symphony can afford.
“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.
The absence of a labor contract has effectively forced the Symphony to shutter its operations.
This is a lie. The Symphony has a labor contract (collective bargaining agreement, or CBA), properly ratified by the board as well as the musicians in 2019, not due to expire until August 31, 2022. That the board and management of the Symphony Society have chosen to disregard this labor contract is on them, not us.
A quick history: over the spring and summer of 2020 when it was clear that the 2020-21 season could not possibly go on as planned, the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony agreed to draconian concessions (an 80% reduction in base salary) for that season only, in order to help the Symphony Society weather the pandemic storm. Included in that agreement was a clause allowing either side to request to renegotiate the third year of the CBA if it seemed necessary due to the uncertainties of the pandemic.
In 2021 the SSSA invoked that clause, but over the course of negotiations through the spring and summer of 2021, it became increasingly clear that in fact the SSSA’s desire to renegotiate the third year of the CBA had little to do with the pandemic and nearly everything to do with long-standing financial issues. In short, the SSSA saw in the pandemic an opportunity to achieve what some had been trying to do for years—downsize the symphony and cut the musicians’ pay to a part-time level.
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.
The question of what a city the size of San Antonio can or cannot support has been addressed here:
Now it is time for the musicians to move forward with plans to organize the full-sized, fully professional orchestra that any city with a claim to “major league” status must have. We presented three pairs of artistically and financially successful concerts, one each in April, May, and June, in the beautiful sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of San Antonio.
We have not forgotten the students of San Antonio and are also planning to continue our acclaimed educational concerts for students from every corner of the city and from every educational setting. Public, charter, private, parochial, and home school students will have the opportunity to enjoy the music of their hometown professional orchestra and learn more about this important art form.
As we move forward, we want to thank our audiences and donors over the past decades, members of our various managements and boards who have worked hard on our behalf, and the city of San Antonio for the support which has kept us on stage to this point. We ourselves are community members as well and look forward to continuing to present concerts of the highest artistic caliber for our friends, neighbors, and fellow San Antonians.
~Mary Ellen Goree
Chair, Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony
Principal 2nd Violin, MOSAS