San Antonio Symphony musicians picket management's office
As a few dozen symphony musicians collected signs from the back of a van in front of the Tobin Center, violinist and union negotiator Mary Ellen Goree had a sobering message.
“I feel heartened that my colleagues and I are unified in our agreement that we will not be part of our own destruction,” she said.
Symphony management imposed contract terms on musicians two weeks ago that Goree called unfair labor practices.
“Currently we have 72 full-time musicians at a base annual salary of about $35,000 a year, and the imposed terms would remove 30 positions, leave 42 full time positions, cut down to $24,000 base salary a year,” Goree said. “The other 30 positions: four would be eliminated entirely.”
The 26 remaining would become part-time, no benefits positions, paying about $11,000 a year. Goree cites one of the recurring problems the symphony has had is that it has accumulated a very small endowment fund to pay for recurring expenses. That creates a hand-to-mouth fundraising/paying expenses routine wherein management rarely gets ahead.
“The musicians have been urging our board and management for years to establish an endowment drive, and we've always been told it's not the right time, it would conflict with the Tobin Endowment drive,” she said. “Well, you're going to end up with a beautiful building and no orchestra.”
Goree also said that corporate support for the symphony is another area that could stand major improvements.
“Our board and management projected $90,000 of corporate funding this year. That is shamefully low,” Goree said.
In fact, according to the Houston Symphony’s web site, corporate support there stands at nearly $3.5 million this year. Goree said she would love to help symphony management close the gap between those figures.
“I have personally offered to various successive leaders of our board and management for at least the last 10 years to go along on their fundraising calls to donors, and I have never, not once, been taken up on that offer,” Goree said.
She also noted that what’s been going on with the symphony budget defies common sense.
“The larger the city of San Antonio becomes, the smaller the symphony budget becomes. And I would like to know why that is,” she said. “Shouldn't it be the other way around?”
Symphony management released a statement saying that they’re looking forward to bargaining in good faith with the musicians’ union soon to achieve a resolution.