The union representing the San Antonio Symphony musicians announced Thursday it was at a standstill with the orchestra’s management over contract negotiations a mere 10 days before the current contract extension expires.
Craig Sorgi, violinist and union negotiating chair for the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony, accused the symphony’s management of “playing games” and refusing to negotiate. But he stopped short of threatening a shutdown before the Tricentennial Festival concerts open Jan. 5.
Asked at a press conference Thursday afternoon whether there will be an orchestra after Dec. 31, Sorgi said, “I want to believe that there is … but we need to see movement on the other side of the table. We need to see serious negotiation, hard negotiation … that’s what we’re asking for.”
Sorgi said the orchestra’s current management – the nonprofit Symphonic Music for San Antonio (SMSA), led by executive director Thomas A. Stephenson – “had the audacity to say to us that they don’t have the authority to bargain, and ended the meeting after just five minutes.” Sorgi was referring to a negotiation session that took place on Monday, Dec. 18.
Who has the authority to bargain, and whether management walked out of the negotiation session, is in dispute, said J. Bruce Bugg Jr., Tobin Endowment chair and SMSA board member.
“It’s my understanding that there was no walkout from the Symphony Society representatives of that meeting,” Bugg said in an interview with the Rivard Report. (Before the SMSA was formed last July, the nonprofit Symphony Society of San Antonio operated the symphony.)
Sorgi said at the press conference Thursday that Stephenson has been in charge of negotiations since he was hired in August. “The SMSA is the steward of the Symphony. Tom Stephenson needs to stop playing games and commit to bargaining with the [union],” he said.
The Symphony’s contract expired on Aug. 31, but the musicians have worked under a four-month contract extension agreement since then.
Sorgi spoke before a supportive crowd of more than 100 people gathered outside the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Attendees included symphony musicians, patrons, and both current and former board members of the Symphony Society.
The SMSA has made several contract demands to cut musicians’ pay, Sorgi said, which would “make it even more difficult to attract and retain the talent that San Antonio has come to expect.”
After Sorgi’s formal statement, former Symphony Society board member Taddy McAllister spoke in support of the musicians.
“In May, three of the wealthiest entities in San Antonio took over the Symphony from the board on which I sat,” McAllister said. The entities to which she referred are the Tobin Endowment, the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, and H-E-B, whose executives comprise the SMSA leadership alongside Stephenson.
“Every former board member in this crowd supported the musicians and did not believe in balancing the budget on the backs of the musicians,” McAllister said.
Bugg affirmed several guiding principles of SMSA leadership, including: “Symphonic music is important to San Antonio,” and “We believe Symphony musicians should have a fair and reasonable contract.”
However, he said the Symphony Society is responsible for current negotiations, refuting Sorgi’s assertion that the SMSA is also party to negotiations.
Sorgi said, “We will not sit down with the SMSA until they affirm – in writing – that they have the authority to bargain with us.”
Bugg later told the Rivard Report that all parties “need to come to the table to try to figure out, ‘Is there a viable way to provide symphonic music to San Antonio?’”
At the press conference, Andrew Gignac, associate professor of music at San Antonio College, asked, “With the San Antonio Tricentennial coming up, do you envision a Tricentennial in this city without a San Antonio Symphony participating?”
“I would think that in itself would be enough in to motivate them,” Sorgi responded.
Meanwhile, Sorgi said, the union is scheduling meetings with members of the City leadership, who have said they will make themselves available immediately after New Year’s Day, if necessary.