New York City Opera Negotiations Break Down

Thursday, December 01, 2011 - 11:53 AM

New York City Opera has declared an impasse in negotiations with the unions representing its orchestra and chorus, with the two sides unable to reach an agreement on wages and benefits. The latest negotiations ended in a deadlock on Wednesday night.

City Opera is facing severe financial problems. In efforts to cut costs, the company has left its longtime home at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, reduced its season down to four productions and laid off nearly half of its administrative staff.

Don Batchelder, City Opera's principal trumpeter and a negotiating committee member with Local 802, said the company is asking for more than 90 percent in pay cuts from its musicians -- and wants to turn the orchestra into a freelance troupe. "The management has made it pretty clear that they want to jettison their orchestra and chorus and replace us with freelancers,” said Batchelder. “Their philosophy is, if we need you, we’ll call you. That is really a great disservice to the legacy and to the quality of New York City Opera."

The company says the proposed pay cuts are not nearly as drastic, and in a statement added that the two unions “refused to recognize the Opera’s financial situation and demanded huge guarantees for work that won’t be realized, wage increases, and full-year health care coverage for mere weeks of work.”

City Opera's budget has shrunk to $13.3 million from around $31 million. The musicians maintain that management is seeking cuts that are disproportionate to the overall company budget. They've also reiterated that, as a freelance group, the overall quality will suffer irrevocably. But in an interview with WQXR in July George Steel, the company’s general manager and artistic director said the cuts will bring it on par with its industry peers. "The contracts that we are seeking are in fact identical to most opera companies around the country, including the Los Angeles Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, and so on," he said.

The latest impasse comes after a marathon 14-hour negotiating session on Wednesday. It’s unclear what the next steps may be, although Batchelder said union lawyers are considering filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over what he said was management’s refusal to talk further. He added that the union has authorized a strike "but we are not yet at that point.”


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Comments [8]

marilyn from cambria heights, ny

I love your sense of humor. Maybe we should all be laughing about the situation instead of crying over the demise of a once noble and respected opera company. Still, I think it is better that we remember them as they were rather than as they now are. I think the point at which the NYC Opera could have been saved has already passed. Send for the veterinarian.

Dec. 22 2011 10:31 PM
Andrew Weinstein from Levittown, NY

I feel bad that this is happening to one of the staples of Lincoln Center art. The Met was lucky to receive money from donations and manage some 182 billion dollars. And they are right next door to each other. If it wasn't for them, I would have never seen A Quiet Place. They bring great moments to its viewers, young and old. If they close down before the season even starts, I will be very upset.

Dec. 02 2011 10:38 PM
Stanley Moon

David, I have no idea what you're alluding to. I was being mildly sarcastic. The problem at NYCO is not that they can't produce operas, but that they can't produce cash. Of the few operas they put on the last two years, most of them were well produced, although I think Steel went with too much outsider rep. (I loved the Feldman, but who wants Seance on a Wet Afternoon?) If they had adequate budget for a full season, I think we would get a pretty interesting mix of old, new, conventional and outre. But someone has to manage all that. You can't just let the workers work.

Dec. 02 2011 10:34 PM
David from Flushing

If the "kids" of City Opera have so little understanding of how to produce an opera, then it would be better for the company to fold.

Dec. 02 2011 07:32 PM
Stanley Moon

Ahh...Marilyn, if the sight of a struggling arts organization upsets you, then of course the natural reaction is to wish them dead.
and Brunhilde...what is this? Steel (that's how you spell it) wants his own opera company? This is well known? Doing old productions doesn't cost a lot of money? Directors of opera companies are typically ego-less? Lay off the mead and get back on the rock, girl.
And David...turn the whole business over to the workers? Kinda like, hey kids, let's do a show? Love it!

Dec. 02 2011 05:02 PM
marilyn from cambria heights, ny

I beg your forgiveness for not being "civil" as required, but it is very hard to watch a once admirable opera company die a lingering and painful death over a period of several years. There is no longer any hope! Send for the veterinarian to do what needs to be done. Leave us with our good memories of the past and don't let them be tarnished by the ugliness of the present.

Dec. 02 2011 02:57 PM
Brunhillde from NYC

I think they should fire the board for allowing this to happen. It is known that George Steele wants to form his own opera company....and he's destroying the people's opera to do so. It's a mess, and I think they should go right back to the beginning...with a new board and director. What's the problem of doing operas for a few seasons...from their old repertoire? They have the scenery, costumes and certainly the public who would love to see a "working" repertoiry company, not a pick-up, ad hoc company of singers and musicians picked by, dictated to and controlled by one ego-centered man.

Dec. 02 2011 09:36 AM
David from Flushing

I do not understand how anyone could relish being on the board or management of City Opera at this point. Why not just turn the whole business over to the workers and let them make the hard decisions?

Dec. 01 2011 04:41 PM

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