San Antonio’s Classical Music Institute removed from musicians union unfair list by judge’s order

San Antonio's Classical Music Institute removed from musicians union unfair list by judge's order

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery granted the Classical Music Institute a temporary restraining order against the union’s San Antonio chapter, Local 23, on Wednesday.

In his ruling, Biery said the union was engaging in unfair labor practices that could cause CMI “substantial and irreparable harm.”

An email obtained by the Express-News that alerted union members to the ruling said Biery had not heard the union’s position.

At the center of the dispute is Opera San Antonio’s staging of “Pagliacci,” which will be presented today and Saturday at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. CMI, a classical music educational and performance organization, had contracted musicians to play in an orchestra for the production.

Local 23 asserted that the musicians’ contracts do not meet local standards for pay and benefits, which is why the national union placed CMI on its unfair list.

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Union members are advised against performing for any employer on that list. In an email sent out to the musicians Sunday, union members were advised that they could face steep fines from their local unions if they took part in the opera and also would have to cross picket lines to reach rehearsals and performances.

In a complaint filed in federal court,  Classical Music Institute said six musicians pulled out of “Pagliacci” rather than taking that risk. CMI paid for the rehearsals the musicians had completed and reimbursed their travel expenses. Some other musicians still under contract had expressed concerns about possible fines for performing and skipped three rehearsals, according to the complaint.

Union members picketed Tuesday’s rehearsal.

In his ruling, Biery noted that the musicians had been contracted before CMI was placed on the unfair list, and that none of the contracted musicians are members of Local 23. He also enjoined union members from any picketing of the production going forward.

CMI’s complaint alleges that the picketing that did take place was unlawful and that the union did not follow its own requirements when CMI was placed on the unfair list. According to the union’s website, a primary labor dispute must exist between the union and an employer before the employer can be placed on the list. CMI says there was no such dispute.

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Richard Oppenheim, president of Local 23, declined to comment for this story.

In a statement, Donald Mason, executive director of CMI, said he is excited that the production will go on.

“Our objective is to promote artistic excellence in Bexar County and provide outstanding service to our fellow Tobin Center resident companies,” Mason said.

David Van Os, one of the union’s attorneys, said the American Federation of Musicians’ legal position is that it has not committed any legal violations and that it should be able to enforce its own bylaws.

Donna K. McElroy, a lawyer who is representing CMI, was unavailable for comment.

A hearing on CMI’s request for a preliminary injunction against the union has been scheduled for Nov. 10. | Twitter: @DeborahMartinEN










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