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AGMA to City Opera: “There Just Won’t Be a Performance"

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New York City Opera is facing an “almost certain” work stoppage of its chorus members and production personnel, according to Alan Gordon, executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists. The current agreement between the union and the company expires on April 30.

The pending stoppage comes just as City Opera has announced a total review of its budgets and planning, postponing its announcement of the coming season.

City Opera and AGMA were originally scheduled to hold negotiations by February 15, a deadline that was then rescheduled to April 4. Citing budgetary constraints, City Opera then canceled negotiations, according to AGMA. As the company rapidly approaches the close of its season, no new negotiation dates have been set.

“I assume the lawyers think they’ll just stall until the summer, then come up with a season, and negotiate with us after they announce a season that has much less work,” said Gordon.

Given the few remaining performances of City Opera’s current season, Gordon stated the union would have just a few chances to publicly respond.

“We’d have a union meeting outside the theater,” Gordon said. “We wouldn’t call it [a strike], but it would be that in effect.”

City Opera is scheduled to have a performance of Stephen Schwartz's Séance on a Wet Afternoon on April 30 and again on May 1, the performance that will close the current season. If a new arrangement is not reached by then, Gordon said, “there just won’t be a performance.”

Gordon highlighted differences in the legal implications of "strike" as compared to his preferred term in this situation, "work stoppage." The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a "work stoppage" as “a strike or a lockout.”

City Opera declined to comment for this article.

In September 1989, the company's orchestra walked out in a dispute over wages and scheduling, a move that canceled the season opening performance of Barber of Seville. The opening of the 1983-83 season was also interrupted as the orchestra was locked in a strike that ran 54 days.

In April, 2008, chorus member Katherine Benfer was interviewed for a feature presented on the City Opera blog. “A lot of times they ask you if you get paid for that,” Benfer is quoted as saying, in reference to a question about how friends react to her work.

“Oh yes you do, as a matter of fact,” she said.