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Arts & Culture
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Striking musicians propose new offer to San Antonio Symphony

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San Antonio Symphony musicians have been on strike since September 2021.

San Antonio Symphony musicians have been on strike for more than four months. Now, their union has proposed an offer that would return them to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

The musicians have been on strike since September 2021, when management proposed cutting the 72-member, full-time orchestra to 46 members. The remaining 26 members would become part-time workers without benefits and pay would be cut across the board.

Violinist Mary Ellen Goree is a negotiator for the musicians. She said their proposal would return funding to 2019 levels.

"Our proposal is that we return to the stage under the terms as they are in the current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) which was ratified by both sides in 2019,” she told TPR.

The proposal represents between a 35-50% concession on the part of the musicians, according to Goree, depending on whether the symphony is able to reschedule concerts.

The musicians aren’t seeking reinstatement of back pay. Goree said she thinks it’s a very generous offer.

“Especially since we know that their own numbers show they're projecting a surplus of up to $1.8 million for this season. And that comes from shuttered venues, grandstand and employee retention tax credit (under the federal CARES Act), as well as the previous PPP money, which they got,” she said.

Goree was at the airport when she spoke to TPR, on her way to play with the Alabama Symphony in Birmingham this week. This is one way she and other musicians are finding work while on strike in San Antonio.

“Of course, many of my colleagues teach, I do also. Many of us played for Christmas gigs, but the symphony was always intended to be our full-time job. That's why we came here. That's what we auditioned for,” she said.

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She also told TPR that she knows of several symphony musicians who have signed one-year contracts with other symphonies and many more who are practicing for auditions with orchestras elsewhere.

“When people leave, as they inevitably will, it will not be possible to fill those positions with equally qualified musicians because nobody is going to come here for $11,000 a year,” she said. “They think that we would be willing to continue playing next to our colleagues who have had their jobs and benefits taken away from them. This is a moral issue and it is morally wrong.”

In a statement, symphony management said it can't comment on the proposal.

“The Symphony Society respects the Musicians' Union as the exclusive bargaining representative and the bargaining process,” the statement reads. “We remain hopeful that we can work to negotiate mutually agreeable terms for a contract and return live Symphony performances back to the community in a way that is sustainable.”

The Symphony’s financial issues are not new. Recurring multimillion-dollar deficits have led musicians to take multiple pay cuts for years. The Symphony has previously dipped into its endowment and advance ticket sales at times to pay down debts and recoup budget deficits.

Goree said the San Antonio Symphony has “shamefully low” funding compared to other big cities, at about $5 million for the upcoming season. The Houston Symphony’s budget for the 2019-2020 season was $35.2 million.

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