City Opera Musicians Locked Out as Mediation Fails

Sunday, January 08, 2012 - 09:40 AM

The unions representing New York City Opera's orchestra and chorus say they won’t be showing up for the scheduled start of rehearsals on Monday morning after talks with a federal mediator broke down Saturday night.

In rejecting the latest wage offer put forth Saturday night by the unions, City Opera management said it has no choice but to lock the musicians out. The move puts the possibility of a strike at a near certainty and casts doubts on the company's season-opening production of La Traviata at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Feb. 12.

In efforts to cut costs, the financially beleaguered company 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. The company would like to pay the orchestra and chorus as freelancers at substantially reduced rates.

“As we have said countless times, for New York City Opera to survive, we must transition to the model that most opera companies use: paying people only for the work that they do,” said George Steel, City Opera’s general manager and artistic director in a statement. “We went to extraordinary lengths to enrich the offer well beyond this basic model by putting hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits and insurance on the table while the unions put up artificial roadblocks and refused to budge.”

Gail Kruvand, he chairwoman of the orchestra's negotiating committee, said the musicians made a “good-faith effort” by agreeing to $2.5 million in concessions and a 24 percent wage cut over the last two years. “During the mediation process that ended unsuccessfully tonight, we offered further economic concessions,” she said. “Steel's intransigence in rejecting our many constructive proposals is the death knell for one of New York's cultural treasures.”

Drew McManus, an orchestra consultant who writes the blog Adaptistration.com, believes that salaries aren't even the biggest sticking point but rather the loss of benefits and a guarantee for a minimum number of services. He said that it’s possible that management and musicians could reach a deal and rescue the season-opening performances, but "the likelihood is pretty slim at this point."

He added: “Given what was described in the offer, management was willing to offer a few more short-term limited incentives but those would run out in three years anyway. I’m not particularly surprised the musicians would reject the offer.”

The unions and the company, which have been without a contract since the spring, began meeting with a mediator last month.

City Opera's Web site continues to list four performances of La Traviata at the BAM Opera House. There has been no word yet on when the production would have to be cancelled altogether.

Article updated: Jan. 8 at 7 pm ET

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