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 firstname.lastname@example.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.