How to Solve the Met Labor Dispute: Three Views

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lockout Looms At New York's Metropolitan Opera Lockout Looms At New York's Metropolitan Opera (John Moore/Getty Images)

Members of the stagehands union were advised this week to prepare for a picket at the Metropolitan Opera in anticipation of a lockout. And according to one union source involved in the current talks between the Met and 12 of its unions, "there's virtually no chance of a deal" this week.

The Met has pushed its contract deadline to Sunday night while a third-party financial analyst has been examining its books for over a week. But sources independently confirmed that the parties remain far apart on monetary and philosophical issues. If talks break down, a lockout could happen as early as Monday.

So where will the Met labor dispute end up? And how are the different parties making their cases? In this podcast, three views:

Segment Highlights:

Why not continue to talk and prepare for the season without a contract?

McManus: "All of this circles around using deadlines as bargaining leverage. There's no way that playing and talking can continue indefinitely."

Gray: "One of the reasons why the Met is forcing an early deadline before the season starts is that during the season, the leverage would be on the part of the union, to call a strike while the production is on."

Why haven't the company's stars been more vocal in the dispute?

Jorden: "From what I hear, there's a real division in AGMA [the singers' union] between the principals and chorus, stage managers and other groups. AGMA is basically a chorus union. I don't think there would be that much enthusiasm on the part of the principals to say, 'oh yes, we really need to support AGMA.'"

How is the union's P.R. strategy of attacking general manager Peter Gelb working for them?

McManus: "It's worth pointing out that the animosity that's being directed toward Gelb has not been directed towards the organization's board of directors. They've been pretty much been off-limits. You have to have a way for either side to save face. In this case, by not attacking the board and focusing on Gelb instead, it doesn't target the board's reputation for governance. If they decide to meet the musicians on Gelb's management style, that's more oversight."

Has the Met effectively made its case to the public, that it needs to save money through cuts to labor costs?

Gray: "Does the Met have to cut costs or does it have to raise more money? This is an issue for symphony orchestras throughout the United States and it's true of the whole cultural sector."

McManus: "The Met's strategy so far has been a zero-sum bargaining strategy: 'Here's the percentage of cuts and we're willing to talk about where the cuts have to happen.' If the Met continues to adopt that policy, the likelihood for a lockout is very high."

Listen to the full segment above and tell us what you think of negotiations in the comments box below.


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Comments [14]

Norman from Conway nh

Can't ruin all those couriers that's all those people know and the fans I like listnin to y'all move on fire who you want leave the opra open

Aug. 17 2014 01:51 AM
Frederic Wile from New York City

Peter Gelb is a disaster and shows no understanding of how labor negotiations are successfully conducted. You don't belittle the other side, nor do you make threats. Humiliation is not an appropriate tactic, nor does it have a record of success. He is making the same mistakes as those by John Lindsay in the teachers strike all those decades ago, and which led to a much longer strike than anyone anticipated and a settlement that was much more expensive for the City than it had to be. I hope there are those among the Met board members experienced in these matters and who have the ability to convince his colleagues of the necessity of easing Mr. Gelb out.

Aug. 16 2014 03:16 PM
Shelly Spritzer from NYC

The only way to save the Met is to get rid of Mr. Gelb. He is under the impression that the Met is Broadway. We opera goers know it is not. Gelb does not know or understand what Opera is about or how it should be presented. I doubt if he even likes it. The money he has spent on idiotic new productions could well have been spent in much better ways. Perhaps this situation will hasten his departure.

Aug. 16 2014 11:15 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

If anyone from Management and/or Union representatives read this, please think "we, we" and not "me, me". Let the moral from Copland's high-school opera, "The Second Hurricane" prevail: stick together rather than go your own way, and you'll all prevail. Good luck to you all. Time will tell and history will judge.

Aug. 16 2014 11:11 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Whatever the outcome of the MET OPERA negotiations, one thing is sure. EVENTUALLY, the cream comes to the top. Future generations realizing the loss generated by multiple causes,will band together to excavate the archeological treasures entombed in original manuscripts, vaults, piano/ vocal scores,partiturs,CDs, tapes, cassettes, DVDs, films and videocassettes.
Fads and a diversity of options besides the cultural backgrounds and financial depravations that concern many people who, by those factors, currently dismiss the masterpieces as purely elitist concerns. Time will tell and when time runs out to salvage the treasures of the past, we all will suffer. But new geniuses and causes will evolve to give significance and hedonistic pleasure. ALL the comments that I have here read are valid and historic vantage points suggest that the executive will decry the artists as ingrates even though they are the only talents evident. Moneyed interests have little regard for what is moral or artistic. States that do not have opera houses or symphony halls are unlikely to voluntarily support them elsewhere. Potential outstanding instrumentalists, singers, authors and composers will not sacrifice a normal family life wherein a guaranteed income is essential if one is a responsible parent to the whims or trends or fads of a society errant in its respect and love for the masterpieces of geniuses. We must all be activists in challenging the dogma that nothing matters but money.

Aug. 16 2014 02:15 AM

@ Diana >could keep his production budgets lower.<

So, do you favor lower salaries for performers(stars, not the unionized employees)? Or lower salaries for *concept* designers and "in-house" MET employees?

Or his own salary, as he works hard to keep "production budgets" lower?


Aug. 15 2014 11:34 PM
Diana from Lincol

It is sad to face the truth: that we who love/adore opera are a dying breed. It is just not "popular." Yes, even at the HD broadcasts (which are wonderful and so much cheaper than a ticket to the opera house), the audience is distinctly OLDER.

I wish Peter Gelb, who should be praised for pushing the "live in HD" progams(where people in Podunk can see the real thing), could keep his production budgets lower.

Aug. 15 2014 06:41 PM

The unions have NOT threated to strike! Management has threatened to LOCK THEM OUT if they don't agree to wage concessions. That is close to blackmail, imho.

Aug. 15 2014 01:02 PM
Leslie A. Miller from Belfast, Maine.

Alan Shurkin.
Come sit up in the Family Circle or Balcony, or even standing room. where the sound is better than in the orchestra. You will see plenty of young people and they even bring their children

I am not one of them, but I grew up at the old Met in the late forties and fifties. The HD transmissions drove me back to the real thing. There are "young" people. Perhaps they like to attend more operas than you, and can afford it up in the FC. In any case we are there because we love it- all of us.

I pray for a good resolution. As a teacher for many many years, this kind of contract trouble is familiar and going back to work with no contract for years at a time and nasty feelings is not good for any profession.

Aug. 15 2014 11:34 AM
Keith Roberts from New Jersey

Mr. McManus accurately identifies the Met's public stance as a "zero sum bargaining strategy" -- in essence, Mr. Gelb has said "we need to trim $30M from the budget, and if you can show me an alternate way I'm happy to listen." However, I don't know what "listening" means to Mr Gelb, since he has been unwilling to consider any of the musicians proposals to save $37.8M. Perhaps the bargaining strategy should be reclassified as "My Way or the Zero-Sum-Highway." In addition as has been pointed out by the musicians' union, the so-called "excess overtime" is a result of rehearsal schedules demanded by Mr Gelb. Finally, Gelb is the boss and artistic director; why has he never, never made any indication that his work has been intricately involved in the creation of whatever financial problems there are. What power have the unions to curb his business strategy and spending?

Aug. 15 2014 10:30 AM
Opera Luvr Dave from Manhattan

In reply to Arnold Shurkin from Verona,NJ; a small but important point is the unions have not threatened to go on strike, it's the Met that has threatened to lock them out and cancel productions. The unions have said they are willing to work without a contract in place until they reach an agreement so that no productions get cancelled. As for David's point, I doubt this review will have much impact; how much good can any one person do over the period of one week if the goal is to pour over thousands and thousands of financial records from several years? I bet both sides will leak whichever parts they find useful to their position. Same old, same old.

Aug. 14 2014 11:38 PM
phil from hawthorne, nj

First, I love classical music and make donations to WQXR as I can as a "plebeian". I do not want to see classical music disappear. I am thankful for this radio station/Internet station in a sea of painfully bad radio.

My friend works for one of the unions in this dispute. I can truthfully tell you he is not a rich person and is trying to make a living just like everyone else, to support his family. I remember when he started about 30 years ago when it used to cost him $20/day to get into the city to work, for all of his costs. Now, between tolls, mass transit, parking, sometimes food, it is not uncommon to cost $100/day for expenses before he has even paid taxes on his earnings and all the "other" taxes imposed. My point is that his costs have gone up tremendously but he is not really bringing any additional money home for other "luxuries". The concern about maintaining income and benefits is about personal financial survival. Management's insistence on cutting costs at the worker's expense just seems like every other industry or sector that insists on extracting money from its work force and expects them to work for low wages and no benefits while making more profits and a lousy retirement, if you have one at all.

As much as I understand the need to make this entertainment affordable, the other side of the coin is I can't spend money in the economy if I don't have any. It will force people to buy in the secondary market, not paying sales taxes, or hurting industries that rely on people to buy "new things". Everyone loses all the way around.

Finally, I understand Arthur's comments and agree with some of them, especially his analogy to "killing the golden goose". I would take it a step further and say that if opera can't make it in NYC, it's going to have a hard time making it most other places. That would be a national or international tragedy.

Aug. 14 2014 09:09 PM
Arnold Shurkin from Verona,NJ

I have beeen going to 5 or 6 operas a year at the Met since it opened in 1966. We are willing to pay the high price for orchestra tickets, but have you observed the age of the audience- mostly geezers like us. Average young people can't afford the cost of tickets for the wonderful productions at the Met and opera is not very popular these days. My children have no interest, although they listened to the broadcasts on the radio throughout their childhood. It appears that the vaarious and wonderful people who sing, dance ,play instruments, design costumes wigs, scenery, and put on the shows are worth every dollar they are paid. However, did anyone believe that NY City Opera would close because it ran out of money. I am willing to increase my contribution a bit to help out, but the workers had better wake up to the reality of the decline of the business they work in and cooperate in the resolution of the problem. They aparantly do not understand that a strike will result in reduced contributions by donors, not increases. A strike could result in a downward spiral that could impair the ability of the institution to survive. By the way, it makes absolutely no sense for the Met to waste the cost of preparing for the upcoming season only to have the unions go on strike just in time for opening night. Should I pay for my tickets for 2014-2015 if there is no season or only a partial season? And I don't understand why the unions are bad mouthing Gelb. I waasn't terribly fond of the new Ring Cycle, but it sure was impressive. Finally, I'm much too old to sing in the chorus, but I would gladly do it for half the amount the choiristers receive with overtime.

Aug. 14 2014 08:21 PM
David from Flushing

It is my understanding that the financial review is to remain confidential to public, but it is likely to clear the air as far as negotiations. If it turns out the money is not there, retrenchment seems the only option. Obviously, this can be done in various ways, but none are particularly nice. Opera seasons are arranged years in advance and one cannot substitute a "popular" opera for an esoteric one suddenly.

Aug. 14 2014 06:37 PM

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