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Friday, March 7, 2014

Labor Rattles Sabres as Met Plans Cuts

Trouble ahead as the Met gets ready to negotiate new union contracts.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A chilling vision of things to come.
Auditorium photograph © The Metropolitan Opera.
Bender © Matt Groening/30th Century Fox. Juxtaposition by the author.
As the Metropolitan Opera sends out its subscription renewal packages and schedule for the 2014-15 season, opera goers in New York may have to face the reality that this coming may be completely or partially cancelled. The cause, a possible lockout of major unions by Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb.

Earlier this evening, our comrades at parterre box made available a memorandum from Alan Gordon, Executive Director for the American Guild of Musical Artists, warning his union members that members of AGMA and other unions may face a labor lockout that could scupper all or part of the coming opera season.

According to the memo (which you can read in its entirety on parterre box) Mr. Gelb's initial proposals cut far deeper than the 10-15% predicted. Mr. Gordon adds that the union's analysis indicates that possible request for cuts in pay may be as deep as 22-39%. Also proposed: cuts to company-provided health insurance plans and longer working hours for performers.

AGMA represents singers, chorus members, dancers and production staff at the Met. The memo also urges principal singers who are members of the union to consider seeking "other sources of employment" in the coming year in case the Met is dark.

An excerpt from the document follows.

"Gelb blames the Met’s fiscal problems on labor costs – you – but, in reality it’s more likely that his failing business model and unregulated waste have led to the Met’s problems. When Peter arrived at the Met, he inherited from Joe Volpe a balanced budget of $209 million. Last year, his productions had swollen the budget to $311 million, with a $2.8 million deficit, and a shrinking audience.

The conclusion seems inescapable that if the 3 major unions do not accept his attempt to “save” the Met on the backs of its performers, (which they obviously can not accept and will not accept) the Met fully intends to lock out all of its artists, instrumentalists and stage hands after the contracts terminate.

Consequently, if Peter Gelb continues to follow this course of action, and locks out employees, the Met will be dark for some or all of 2014-2015 season. Hopefully, he will come to realize that his approach to fixing the Met’s finances is untenable."

Last year, Mr. Gelb took control of the negotiations talks from former GM Joseph Volpe, a former member of the Met's carpenters' union who shepherded the company through its last set of talks.

Negotiations between Mr. Gelb and the unions that represent the Met's employees are scheduled to begin in May of this year.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.