Looks Like The Gloves Are Coming Off At San Antonio

At the very end of last week, the San Antonio Symphony Association began distributing an email message to donors from President and CEO David Green entitled “San Antonio Symphony – Labor Negotiations Update.” Green uses the lengthy email message to present some of the Association’s bargaining positions as well as soliciting recipients “thoughts and feedback on the enclosed presentation…at (210) 554-1000 x111 or greend@sasymphony.org”…

At the same time Green’s message was being distributed, the San Antonio Symphony (SAS) musicians were sending out an email message of their own. But instead of focusing on lengthy presentations outlining bargaining positions, they were inviting the San Antonio community to attend a concert to raise funds to benefit the San Antonio Food Bank. The concert features musicians of the SAS volunteering their time for the event as well as musicians from the Dallas Symphony and SAS Music Director Larry Rachleff. According to the musician’s press release the event is to recognize “the daily struggles for many of San Antonio’s working families.”*

Nevertheless, Green’s email message contains some exemplary language demonstrating why it is vital for an executive administrator to have a working knowledge of musicians or, at the very least, surround himself/herself with those who do.

In case you don’t remember, at the end of 2006 Green and the SAS Executive Board failed to renew SAS Music Director Larry Rachleff’s contract due to reasons that were based mostly in a lack of practical knowledge of the orchestra business.

Now, Green has gone public with a similar gaffe by referring to the SAS musicians and their Union as two separate entities. If Green possessed even a rudimental understanding of the labor movement as it pertains to American orchestras, he would have realized that the musicians’ union and the musicians are one in the same since orchestra musicians have been representing themselves in negotiations since the early 1960’s. Here’s the passage from Green’s email I’m referring to [emphasis added]:

We appreciate your incredible support and want you to know that we have, in fact, offered the musicians a new contract that will increase our budgeted costs by more than $900,000 over three years and result in a total compensation increase of 14% for each musician over those three years, a 4.2% annual average increase. In fact, our most recent offer split the difference between our earlier position and the union’s. The union not only rejected it but ultimately increased their request, further widening the gap.

There’s quite a bit more in Green’s message but one part that actually made me laugh out loud was his proposal offering what is essentially profit-sharing as a source of potential added income for musicians. Unfortunately, the section where Green outlines this offer falls after a segment where he claims “overall performance revenue has been virtually flat the last three years” and the Association can’t enhance musician’s wages by increasing the number of weeks the orchestra performs because the negative revenue gap for each of those additional weeks would amount to $50,342.

It doesn’t take much to see why the musicians have rejected the idea; as such, Green’s reasoning for including that in his presentation is puzzling.

Green’s email message is filled with similar material such as proposing this classic ethical dilemma “Consider reducing core orchestra to provide more money for musicians now and increase management’s ability to add more weeks for the future” (cue sad music, cut to scene of desperate mother trying to decide which child to save from the burning car, then fade to black with the faint sound of an explosion).

Ideally, someone will be capable of stepping in and saving this administration from itself. Alternatively, if they continue in this direction unchecked, there is a sincere risk that all of the hard work put into bringing the organization out of bankruptcy will be lost.

In the end, the SAS board, local government, and corporate/large individual donors are going to have to realize that in order to justify San Antonio’s recent growth they will have to put the necessary levels of risk and personal collateral on the line to move this organization where it needs to be. There are only 10 days remaining before the contract between the SAS musicians and the SAS Association expires and if Green’s message is representative of the board’s position then things seem fairly entrenched.

Fortunately, Green and members of the SAS Executive Board have reversed their positions before. Do you remember the “If you’re not prepared to move to San Antonio, don’t apply [for Music Director]” remark in the press from Green where he did an about-face a few weeks later saying “Nonresidency is not a deal-breaker…?” Consequently, there is every reason to believe they can do it again here.

Deep down, Green has demonstrated the ability to aptly manage this institution; he just needs to seek advice from individuals outside of mainstream resources. Once he gets out of his own way and the board begins to internalize their duties and responsibilities as steward of the organization, there’s no telling what they might accomplish; you never know, they might even be the next “Nashville Sensation.”

Personally, I would like to believe that is exactly what is in store.

*For those interested in attending the concert, it will take place August 25th, 2007, 4:00p.m. at Travis Park United Methodist Church, 230 E. Travis, San Antonio TX 78205. Admission: Adults, $10; Children over 5, $5; Children 5 and under, FREE. For further details please contact SAS Assistant Principal Viola Emily Watkins Freudigman at 210-363-9035.

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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3 thoughts on “Looks Like The Gloves Are Coming Off At San Antonio”

  1. Re: the supposed confusion of musicians and union – this is a common tactic in San Antonio, due to the rabidly anti-union attitudes of the population at large… it’s just a way to evoke the bogeyman of the “evil” union. I don’t think it’s due to ignorance, I think it’s absolutely on purpose. We’ve seen it time and time again in SA.

    Wish us luck, we’re going to need it. :

  2. I’m the director of the Olmos Ensemble. I raise all the money and my partner and I do all the administrative work for free so that my colleagues can play chamber music together. I’ve always thought it was a good thing for the orchestra that we do that. (Maybe I have the orchestra’s needs more at heart than others?)

    Green sights my group as one of the ways musicians make extra money.

    Let’s see — my budget is under $30k. We give 4 or sometimes more concerts per year. The average paycheck ranges between 300 and 500 dollars. So I play four and get paid the most, that’s a whopping $2000.

    Mark Ackerman

    Thank you so much for taking the time to post your comment. Although I know reporters don’t have the time to track down every resource mentioned during an interview. As such, I am pleased to see you weighing in on this. ~ Drew McManus

  3. Don’t underestimate the latent anti-union feelings of many musicians which can seriously undermine the best efforts of a bargaining committee. Also, there is often a serious information/education gap with many younger players who have little or no knowledge of the monumental efforts of those who have gone before. Working together within a collective agreement is the best way for real progress and security for ALL. Support your committee!

    No arguments here Harold and thanks for making those points. I have had several email conversations with individuals this week responding to this article on that very topic. In the end, I think the disenfranchised minority among the musicians will be less apt to speak out against their colleagues so long as the committee has demonstrated that they have taken all opinions into account when determining the collective will and have kept their colleagues up to speed. In the end, what they will end up with is a clearly defined mandate.

    Another interesting component is that any manager or board member willing to exploit what one or two players among the disenfranchised minority are in danger of violating their agreement to bargain in good faith, which includes recognition of the bargaining unit as the sole spokespersons for the musician collective.

    Personally, whenever I see a musician speaking out against their colleagues publicly it makes me wonder 1) how well the committee is doing their job and 2) how many other issues via the musicians’ position the disenfranchised musician is in agreement with. ~ Drew McManus

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Looks Like The Gloves Are Coming Off At San Antonio