A dispute between the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) labor union and the Classical Music Institute (CMI) has been resolved, but only for the moment — and only partially.

Monday morning in the federal courtroom of Judge Fred Biery of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, CMI attorney Donna McElroy advanced a “motion to quash” the temporary injunction Biery had previously issued against AFM to allow CMI to perform as the orchestra for Opera San Antonio’s production of Pagliacci Nov. 3-5.

The motion was granted, dissolving a temporary restraining order preventing AFM from picketing CMI performances and from placing the orchestra on its International Unfair List, threatening its member musicians with potential fines and loss of membership if they performed with the group.

Biery had granted the injunction last Wednesday.

In court the following day, Biery urged the disputants to come to an agreement to resolve the issue and avoid going to trial.

“Nobody’s gonna win in this thing, especially the musicians or the kids who are going to see The Nutcracker, if it’s not going to happen,” Biery said from the bench at the time, referring to the upcoming Ballet San Antonio performances CMI is scheduled to play Dec. 2-11.

McElroy and AFM attorney Matthew Holder reached an agreement on Friday, with CMI offering to pay above the pay scale set by AFM for its musicians and to make contributions to the union pension fund, thereby resolving the crux of the union’s disagreement with CMI.

“We just withdrew the request for the injunction, because once we understood what their point was, we talked about it and they’re paying more than what they perceive to be area standards,” McElroy said of CMI raising their wage scale.

AFM president Ray Hair said the reason CMI was placed on the Unfair List Oct. 11 — immediately after Bexar County granted CMI $300,000 to essentially replace the defunct San Antonio Symphony as the orchestra for Opera San Antonio and Ballet San Antonio — was because its pay scale was below “area standards” set by the union.

“We disagree that they are area standards,” McElroy said, “but the point is, we’re paying more so there’s no reason to put them on the Unfair List, period.”

AFM president Richard Oppenheim testified Thursday, responding in the negative to multiple questions from McElroy regarding whether the union held multiple arts groups within its 48-county area of jurisdiction, including the Symphony of the Hills in Kerrville, Valley Symphony Orchestra, South Texas Symphony Association, Victoria Symphony, and the Mid-Texas Symphony, to similar area standards.

Outside the courtroom, CMI executive director Donald Mason said CMI learned from the process, and that setting higher wages and contributions to the union pension fund would likely benefit other musicians in the area.

“I think this may set a precedent for other organizations to meet [area] standards, beyond CMI,” Mason said.

McElroy cautioned that CMI’s lawsuit against AFM would still proceed without the injunction, seeking compensatory damages for placement on the Unfair List from Oct. 11 to Nov. 2. During that time, several musicians contracted for the Pagliacci performances left rehearsals and traveled back to their respective homes outside of San Antonio, for fear of risking AFM reprisals, according to court records.

The amount of damages sought by CMI has not yet been set, McElroy said.

After the hearing, Oppenheim declined to comment. Brian Petkovich, bassoonist and president of the San Antonio Philharmonic, and a former secretary/treasurer of AFM and San Antonio Symphony musician, said, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s done.”

Mason said the focus for CMI is now on The Nutcracker. “I feel like we can move forward. I feel like art now can take the priority, and we can get back to making great performances.”

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...