Negotiation Update: San Antonio

Although the musicians from the San Antonio Symphony are off for the summer, their elected Negotiation Committee representatives are still at work…


An article by Mike Greenberg in the 6/17/2007 edition of the San Antonio Express-News did an excellent job at summing up where both sides stand in the ongoing negotiations and his article does an equally good job at framing the debate on one of the core issues: community/donor support.

Mike also did one of the best jobs I’ve seen in recent years at describing just where the San Antonio Symphony (SAS) musicians stand next to their peers with regard to compensation

The whole state of Utah has one Fortune 500 company. San Antonio has five — as many as Fort Worth, whose symphony musicians also are paid more than twice as much as ours.

Those 32 words pretty much sum up several decades of slow growth and the results of missing out or getting in late on metropolitan growth cycles; it is as though the institution has adopted a policy of trying to catch up by going slower.

Now San Antonio is gearing up to build a brand new Performing Arts Center and there are those in the San Antonio Symphony’s family who believe that they can’t afford to be left behind once again.

After reading Mike’s article I contacted representatives from the musicians’ Negotiation Committee and the SAS executive management to talk about where negotiations stand and how the organization is going to fit into the master plan regarding the new Performing Arts Center.

Brian-Petkovich.jpgFrom the musicians, I spoke with Brian Petkovich, Negotiating Committee Chair and SAS Bassoonist. Brian said that the musicians’ latest proposal, from June 15th, was rejected by the organization’s management and in response management proposed an offer that provides salary increases over a period of three years that are below the rate of inflation and maintains a shorter season (27 weeks in years one and two and 28 in year three).

“As of now, face-to-face negotiations likely won’t resume until August of this year,” said Brian. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t continuing to work, even with members spread throughout the country attempting to earn a living during the period when we aren’t paid by the symphony.

Our latest offer included a very generous, flexible, and unlimited use media agreement and modest increases in compensation and benefits…and that recent proposal is where we are holding firm.”

When asked about the strike authorization vote which the musicians passed last month Brain said that isn’t something they wouldn’t consider implementing until after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of August, which means the musicians would take no action in that direction until then.

Brian went on to say that the proposed Performing Arts Center has definitely impacted the musicians’ bargaining position.

“A proposed amendment to an existing hotel/motel tax is expected to pass in November which will redirect revenue from that tax toward a new Performing Arts Center as well as some other projects like parks and sports projects,” said Brian. “The Performing Arts Center portion of the overall bond would be about $75 million. The city of San Antonio is supposed to contribute land and then private donors are supposed augment the $75 million and raise an operating endowment.

The players want to see a matching endowment campaign for the SAS take place simultaneously along with the private fundraising component for the Performing Arts Center. The players also want to make sure there’s no conflict of interest between our board members meeting their obligations to the organization along with any duties they assume related to fundraising for the Performing Arts Center. The players have presented an unusually long five year proposal to give the SAS and Performing Arts Center the stability they desire to ensure fundraising efforts to be implemented under the umbrella of economic stability labor peace. At the same time, we need the modest increases we’ve asked for in our current proposal.”

It appears that the SAS musicians are taking a page from the Nashville Symphony playbook, where the musicians and management from that orchestra negotiated an unusually long collective bargaining agreement in order to create the economic stability and labor peace the organization needed to successfully conduct a $120 million capital campaign project.

When asked about the current situation and some specific remarks made by Brian Petkovich, SAS CEO David Green declined multiple requests for comment.

This negotiation is shaping up to have some striking parallels with events that transpired in Nashville from the past 15 years, all of which will be examined in greater detail in a future article. Stay tuned…

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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