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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Just One Week 'til Doomsday

The Metropolitan Opera and its unions are headed for the precipice.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The title (with a slight background picture alteration) speaks for itself.
Photo of Peter Gelb's head by Marty Sohl © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
Original cover of While The Clock Ticked by Franklin W. Dixon
Artwork © 1932 Grosset and Dunlap. Photo alteration by the author.
With one week left before the July 31 deadline and union contracts for fifteen of the Metropolitan Opera's sixteen unions threatening to expire, both Met general manager Peter Gelb and union representatives have upped the stakes in their war of angry words.

An article by Michael Cooper in yesterday's New York Times cited a letter to the employees of the Metropolitan Opera, including the members of the orchestra, singers, stagehands and production staff. In the letter, Mr. Gelb said: "“if we are not able to reach agreements by July 31 that would enable the Met to operate on an economically sound basis, please plan for the likelihood of a work stoppage beginning Aug. 1."

The Times reported that the letter came with an attached document, stating that employees could lose their health insurance at the end of the month but could buy into the company's COBRA plan. The Met's planned cost-saving measures include substantial changes in the company's health insurance policies, forcing employees to contribute more toward their own health care.

Alan S. Gordon, who represents the American Guild of Musical Artists, was blunt in an interview with the Times reporter: "Once he (Mr. Gelb) locks out employees, his relationship with the performers at the Met is over," the AGMA rep said. "They will never respect him again. He’ll be the captain of a ship where the crew is just waiting for a chance to mutiny."

The conflict between Mr. Gelb and Mr. Gordon (whose union represents the singers, chorus and dancers) has been brewing for the past six months, with both sides adopting an aggressive stance. The Met is also in negotiations with its unions representing stagehands, the orchestra, set decorators, and even cafeteria workers. Although some of the labor groups have entered negotiations, there is genuine impasse between management and Local 802, the union representing the orchestra.

The article also quotes a statement by musicians of the MET Orchestra: "Peter Gelb has pursued a cynical strategy calculated to result in a lockout of his artists and craftspeople and imperil the upcoming Met Opera season."

The looming lockout threatens the company's ability to rehearse, prepare and stage its slate of twenty-four opera productions, including six planned new operas. The season is scheduled to start with a new Bartlett Sher staging of Le Nozze di Figaro on Sept. 22.

The Met last experienced a lockout in 1981, which resulted in the cancellation of the first 11 weeks of that season.

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