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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

San Antonio Philharmonic musicians reach 'bridge' union contract, new orchestra’s first

The San Antonio Philharmonic orchestra plays on a stage at the First Baptist Church of San Antonio while attendees stand and sing.
Nathan Cone
A performance of the San Antonio Philharmonic honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in January.

The contract is the first agreement musicians with the San Antonio Philharmonic have had since the 9-month strike and bankruptcy of the San Antonio Symphony last year.

The Philharmonic, which was created in the aftermath of the Symphony’s dissolution and the purchase of its bankruptcy assets, is nearing the end of its first season in May, and musicians have worked without a contract through the season. The recently ratified contract will begin on July 1 and run through the end of Philharmonic’s next season.

Both Richard Oppenheim, the president of the American Federation of Musicians Local 23, and Philharmonic President Brian Petkovich said the contract was unique among orchestral collective bargaining agreements because the Philharmonic is still getting its footing as a new organization.

“The thing that this has done is it’s created an alignment between a lot of different issues on basically the flexibility that we need to move forward as a young organization,” Petkovich explained. “So really, this creates a good foundation for us to grow.”

One of the unique things about the contract is how musicians are being paid: per service, rather than a regular check for an entire season.

“It’s kind of weird for us,” Oppenheim said. “That’s a kind of a different jumping off point than we’re accustomed to, but it was under circumstances that it seemed like it was necessary, so that’s what we ended up doing.”

San Antonio Symphony musicians picket the symphony headquarters
Jack Morgan
Former San Antonio Symphony musicians picketing the symphony headquarters in January of last year.

He said the contract also lacked a comprehensive cartage plan — a setup where the orchestra employer typically pays for the transport of certain large instruments to performances.

“There’s an assumption, you know, in a top tier orchestra at least, that there are people who are paid to transport instruments like that that are cumbersome and could actually cause injury if moved improperly, and also if moved improperly could suffer damage to the instrument,” Oppenheim said.

He added: “So the circumstances with the Philharmonic don’t necessarily allow for that right now, although we are actually still pursuing some refinements that would bring this closer to what we feel is proper for people who play those kinds of instruments.”

Oppenheim also said he understood why flexibility with the Philharmonic was necessary for this first contract, but said he expected improvements in the next one.

“From my point of view at least, it’s kind of a bridge to the successor document,” he said. “We deliberately limited this to one season in order to give the Philharmonic a chance to gain a solid footing, which in turn would allow us to go into a bit more depth in terms of the kind of document we wanted to create.”

Despite what Oppenheim saw as flaws in the contract, he said the process was fair and amicable.

“It’s gratifying to see what I guess you could call a communitarian approach that people are taking for the most part to this, in the sense of shared sacrifice … but there’s also a sense of shared gains,” he said. “And, ultimately, a sense of greater autonomy. And that’s maybe the most important thing of all.”

Oppenheim added that he expected negotiations on the next contract to begin in the next few months.

The Philharmonic’s next performance at the First Baptist Church of San Antonio will play works from Mozart and Barber, and tickets start at $30.

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