Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The San Antonio Symphony musicians’ negotiated labor contract expires on Dec. 31. However, in a midnight news release issued Tuesday, the Musicians’ Society of San Antonio union stated that it has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Symphony management has refused to bargain in good faith.
Thomas A. Stephenson, executive director of the nonprofit Symphonic Music for San Antonio (SMSA), is involved in negotiations, but refused to comment on the status of the talks, “because both parties agreed to refrain from bargaining away from the table,” he told the Rivard Report on Wednesday.
In a conference call Wednesday afternoon, violinist Craig Sorgi, negotiating chair for the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony, and bassoonist Brian Petkovich, secretary-treasurer of the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians, spoke about the situation.
Within five minutes of a scheduled Monday morning meeting, Petkovich said, the three members of Symphony management authorized to negotiate walked out before talks could begin.
“They walked out and told us they didn’t have anything to say, that they weren’t prepared to negotiate that day, and wouldn’t know when they could negotiate again or meet with us again,” he said.
Management negotiators refused to respond to current proposals and offered no new proposals, according to the musicians’ press release.
Stephenson said that he’s “not authorized to make comments,” because “I’m not even a party to the contract.”
He explained that the Symphony Society of San Antonio was party to the contract, represented in negotiations by Alice Viroslav, the organization’s current board chair. Attorney Michael Bernard, legal counsel for the Symphony Society and SMSA, also is involved in negotiations, Sorgi said.
Viroslav declined comment, citing pending negotiations.
The SMSA was formed in July by J. Bruce Bugg, chair of the Tobin Endowment and the Kronkosky Foundation, with the purpose of taking over Symphony operations from the Symphony Society, which had led the organization since its founding in 1939, and getting the orchestra on firmer financial footing. Stephenson was brought in to run the new organization.
Current Symphony Society board member Jim Berg said that he is awaiting a conference call for board members, which could come as soon as Thursday, to discuss dissolving the Symphony Society to transfer assets and control fully to SMSA, which would then be full party to the contract under negotiation with the union.
“Our organization, for all intents and purposes, is defunct,” Berg said of the Symphony Society.
Berg said the solution to ongoing financial struggles of the San Antonio Symphony comes down to three words: “Endowment, endowment, endowment.” The Symphony needs a major donor to step up and give an amount in the range of $50 million, which the orchestra could draw from for annual operations costs, he said.
“The musicians should not be part of this penny-pinching or painful discussions about money,” Berg said. “They deserve better from us.
“I have no axe to grind, I just want success for the Symphony.”
In an August Rivard Report story about his coming on board to shore up the Symphony’s business operations, Stephenson spoke about the group’s ongoing financial woes. Of its musicians being underpaid in general, and receiving repeated pay cuts, Stephenson said, “I can’t fix that overnight, but I’m committed to turning that around.”
Sorgi and Petkovich characterized the current contract situation as uncertain, just as the Symphony is about to head into its Tricentennial Festival season, with major concerts scheduled for Jan. 5-6, Jan. 12-13, and early February.
“Everything is up in the air right now,” Sorgi said, of where the musicians will be on those dates. “The future is unwritten.”