Musicians of San Antonio Symphony stand in solidarity as strike enters sixth month
This story was updated on March 27th at 9:00pm
On the six-month anniversary of their strike, the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony rallied this past Saturday at Veterans Memorial Plaza in front of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. This demonstration was held to bring awareness to the strike that has been going on since September 2021, and the need for action to escalate the long-standing negotiations between symphony members and board members of Symphony Society of San Antonio. The crowd of around eighty people —including musicians, educators, and supporters— stood with signs and posters reflecting their disapproval of the board’s refusal to come to terms with the musicians.
“And so I'm proud to stand up for you all to stand up for a fully funded symphony that treats its workers, right? But y'all are striking about something so much bigger than that. And I'm so proud to be a part of that thing,” said Greg Casar.
Among the attendees were local officials including City Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, Bexar County Judge candidates Peter Sakai and Ina Minjarez, congressional candidates Jessica Cisneros and Greg Casar, who each all delivered a speech in support of the strike, emphasizing the importance of labor unions, fair wages, and solidarity.
“You deserve a livable wage, you deserve bonuses, you deserve back pay, you deserve health care and you deserve to be respected at the bargaining table. And it is a shame that that has not been the case,” said Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez.
In September, 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.
Since the rejection of the offer, all of the members have yet to work and play in the San Antonio Symphony – resulting in the musicians struggling to pay bills and support themselves and having to take on extra gigs on the side.
“As long as our management and board remain stuck in their irrational insistence on a ludicrously low budget requiring draconian labor cuts, a budget which cannot be supported by any evidence, a budget of under five million dollars in a metropolitan area of two and a half million people. San Antonio cannot have the orchestra it has had since 1939. An orchestra of high artistic standards combined with a love among the musicians for our community.” said Mary Ellen Goree, Second Violin and Chair of the Negotiating Committee.
The variety of the speakers highlighted how influential the symphony is within the San Antonio community. Not only are the symphony members affected, but so are the listeners and youth musicians. Laura Scalzo, a violinist and educator, shared her experience of relocating for her specific position and her worries for her students.
“Yes, it is painful on a personal level to lose a job that I worked a lifetime to earn. I will not be able to sustain my life here as a musician on the imposed contract. But what saddens me more is thinking about the next generation of San Antonio's, who won't have the unforgettable, life changing experience of hearing a live orchestra or who may not have private teachers here to mentor them on their own musical journeys.”
Through the course of the rally, the array of speakers urged action in demanding the symphony management to “do better.”
“I mean, we've heard from people who grew up as children attending the symphony and how that affected their lives. And we're hearing from teachers and how the symphony affects their students. We're hearing from symphony musicians themselves and how our lives are intertwined with this. And we're hearing from local political leaders and the importance of the symphony in the community,” said Goree.
On its website, Symphony management said it has held three recent meetings with the musicians, and a fourth being scheduled in federal mediation. Management said it has offered multiple contract proposals.
“We have faith the process will lead to an agreement all parties can support so we can, together, restore live performances for our community, our patrons, and music lovers.”
Meanwhile, the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony will continue playing at the First Baptist Church in the upcoming months.