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Strike! The San Antonio Symphony And Its Musicians At Impasse

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San Antonio Symphony management had signaled there wasn’t room for much negotiation with symphony musicians, and on Monday that signal was made even more clear. Symphony management imposed as binding a September 13 contract submitted to symphony musicians.

San Antonio Symphony musicians work on three-year contracts, and this is the third year of the current contract. The musicians agreed late last winter to a renegotiated third year due to the extenuating negative circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Sept. 13 contract submitted was that renegotiated one. Musicians voted on Sept. 15 to unanimously reject it.

Mary Ellen Goree plays violin and is a musicians’ Local 23 negotiator, and the musicians’ reaction to today’s imposition of its tenets was dramatic.

“Our response to that is that we cannot work under such imposed conditions, and we are calling a strike,” she said.

She said the reason for the rejection of the contract was obvious if you read the contract’s details. First off, full-time musicians would be reduced from 72 to 42.

“The remaining thirty positions, four of them that are currently vacant, are being eliminated and the other 26 are being converted to what they call a full ‘contract per service,’ and what we call ‘per service,’ because there is nothing full about that contract,” Goree said.

Corey Cowart is the symphony’s Executive Director.

“What was meant by full contract for service is that we're going to look at an entire season of work and guarantee a minimum number of services over an entire year,” Cowart said.

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Those projections do elevate per service to higher than just work on an as-needed basis. But per service means those part-time musicians will lose health insurance.

Those musicians being flipped from full to part time will lose health insurance and full-time symphony players will also suffer a loss of nearly $8,000 a year in the new contract. Goree said many of them won national competitions to get their jobs, and they moved their families here.

“Converting them to part time with a very, very low salary and no health insurance — it will not save the symphony. It will destroy the symphony. People aren't going to stick around for that,” she said.

Cowart acknowledged how tough it must be to move across the country, then have a strike.

“It is especially hard for the musicians. And at the same time, we have to work to preserve an organization so it can be here for generations,” he said.

Negotiators on both sides are at what Cowart called a “good faith impasse” and that only a return to the bargaining table can overcome that. No meetings are as yet scheduled.

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