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San Antonio Symphony Musicians Unanimously Reject Management’s New Cost-Cutting Contract

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A crucial vote late Wednesday by San Antonio Symphony musicians has determined its near-term future. Symphony management had called for a re-negotiation of the current musician contract due to financial difficulties. Repeated attempts to find negotiated common ground failed. On Monday, management offered what they called their “last, best and final offer.”

On Wednesday MOSAS—Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony voted. Now the vote has been tallied and musicians have rejected that offer, and handily.

“The Musicians unanimously rejected management’s last, best and final offer,” said negotiator and violinist Mary Ellen Goree.

The rejected contract would have eliminated four symphony jobs, cut full-time musicians’ pay in half, and reduced by thirty the number of the orchestra’s full-time players. As to what happens now, one of two scenarios.

“We either work under the terms of the existing CBA [the collective bargaining agreement] or we get back to the table and hash out an agreement that both sides can live with,” she said.

Goree said the ball is in symphony management's court and that the players’ objectives are simple.

“We want to see the symphony survive and thrive as a symphony orchestra,” she said.

San Antonio Symphony Executive Director Corey Cowart said the proposal rejected was one that would have changed the orchestra in some key ways.

“The full orchestra in the proposal would be 68 musicians,” he said.

Forty-two would be full-time musicians and the remaining twenty-six would be what’s called “per service,” part time as needed, with a guaranteed number of performances and pay.

“This offer changes the structure, but from what patrons and audience members would see on stage, it would still be a full symphony orchestra,” Cowart said.

As to where the symphony’s finances are right now, he said they’re doing well.

“We actually are at a very stable place right now going through COVID and through this past season. Our patrons and donors have been incredibly generous in allowing us to really make it through that season,” Cowart said. “And with the help of government support with the second PPP loans that we received.”

TPR asked why full time musicians had to be cut dramatically when the symphony is doing well, and he said projections about being able to meet all those expenses in the future weren’t as rosy as finances now are. And that puts the symphony board in a tough spot.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.

“We basically cannot agree to a budget that we're going to be spending more than we can bring in,” he said.

The perpetual question regarding symphony finances is when will they be able to find an endowment large enough to cover the daily bills? Their endowment is currently just under 2 million dollars.

“We need to get to a place where the public, our patrons, our donors, and potential investors view us as stable and feel that we are going to be a worthy investment for that funding,” he said.

In other words, to impress those who would give an endowment, the symphony has to be stable. But without an endowment, each month is hand-to-mouth, and stability hard to achieve. If you want to help, he said buy season tickets, and go to performances. Regarding the contract negotiations, they’re starting over.

“Basically, we go back to the table and we're working to find dates in the near future that we can meet again and continue to negotiate,” he said.

The first ticketed concert of the season is Oct. 29.

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