The Terms: Unions Make Concessions, Met Opera Agrees to Oversight

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 11:00 AM

A limo arrives in front of the Metropolitan Opera House A limo arrives in front of the Metropolitan Opera House (Sean Pavone /

The Metropolitan Opera says it won't comment on the terms of the contract deals reached early Monday morning with its two largest unions. But sources with AGMA, representing the singers, and Local 802, representing the orchestra players, have been sharing details with the news media.

The tentative four-year contract calls for an immediate 3.5 percent pay cut for singers and orchestra members, followed by another 3.5 percent pay cut in six months. The cuts will grow to 7 percent in the second and third years of the contract. Workers will receive a 3 percent raise in the final six months of the contract.

The unions have agreed to the first pay cuts in decades, but they are far smaller than the nearly 17 percent that general manager Peter Gelb had sought when negotiations began. What's more, the concessions hinge on pay cuts rather than changes to work rules or benefit cuts, which the Met had initially pursued (benefit cuts may be possible as an alternative to pay cuts, however).

Eugene Keilin, the third-party financial analyst hired to assist with contract talks, will stay on to oversee the Met's spending, reporting to both the company and the unions.

Alan Gordon, the executive director of AGMA, credited Keilin as a major factor in bringing the sides together. He also believed that the union's lead attorney, Bruce Simon, and Gelb reached a better understanding over the course of the talks.

"We approached this as if Peter Gelb had declared war on the employees and that he was in fact being truly evil just to achieve leverage," said Gordon. "And I was satisfied that that wasn't true. In the end, our members and Peter ultimately cared about the music rather than the [B.S.]."

The Wall Street Journal reports that the deal calls for "equality of sacrifice," meaning that management will cut $11.25 million from its expenses outside the bargaining agreements. Administrative salaries for non-union workers will be cut in amounts comparable to the union reductions; overall, some $90 million worth of expenses are expected to be trimmed over the next four years, according to the New York Times.

Jessica Phillips Rieske, a clarinetist and chairwoman of the Met Orchestra’s negotiating committee, credited Local 802's "data-driven approach" to the talks. "We asked for a tremendous amount of financial information from the Met to try to understand what the Met was facing," she said, and called Keilin's role "unprecedented" for a major arts organization.

Rieske said that there are terms in the contract which stipulate that if the Met does become more financially successful, "we would all take part in that – the idea being that we have some oversight and share in it being successful as well."

The contract specifically calls for a bonus to be distributed to unionized workers "if the annual investment return on the Met’s endowment funds exceeds 8 percent (the rate currently projected for a return on the Met’s pension fund)." That holds true only if box office, media and other returns meets projected earned revenues.

As for the the talks on Sunday night leading to the agreement at 6 am Monday: "they literally could have gone either way many times," said Rieske. "It was very grueling."




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Comments [7]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

I have just heard from one of my colleagues at the MET OPERA that Peter Gelb does NOT care about opera, but HOLLYWOOD with its handsome men and good-looking women sets his sights for all whom he engages as performers, singers and dancers. For Gelb the singers' and dancers' talents are subservient to their appearance I was told today. That for me explains a lot. We have some perceptive people blogging here on the WQXR venue. When I was a student at Juilliard and also at Columbia University, we were given score desk seats for one dollar so we could mark our scores with notations of phrasing, tempi and staging and incidentally partially see the stage at the old MET Opera House. For Broadway shows they have the TKS booth on Times Square that sells the same day performances for half price knowing that the likelihood is that otherwise those seats might very well be empty. As a Wagnerian heldentenor with many years of personal anecdotal experience,it was always a big boost to see a full house, a downer to see at intermissions many empty seats. From every point of view, performer, audience and management the "more the merrier."

Aug. 22 2014 12:47 PM

Get rid of Gelb. His salary, percs, and horrible productions. Bring back the traditional opera settings so that younger people will learn what opera is supposed to be and not those outrageous farces that can't fill the house, drive away those if us that appreciate opera and create a culture of the absurd. Spend your money on singers and restore the tradition of opera. Just think, there's going to be a generation that thinks Rigoletto is supposed to take place in Las Vegas. What has been allowed to happen is a travesty and a crime.

Aug. 21 2014 09:23 PM
John Grrande from Teaneck, NJ

This will probily never happen, but think how the attendence at the Met would rise if there was a way to stop the showing of the opera's at the movie theater's in New York, New Jersey and Conn.

Aug. 20 2014 12:13 PM
Leslie A. Miller from Belfast, Maine.

I would hope Mr. Gelb would also give up things like a limousine and driver, and other expensive perks and live like the rest of us for a while, to help the cause.

I know I give up a lot to go to the opera. I cannot live without it, but do live without at home to be able to do so.

Aug. 19 2014 01:37 PM
Robert St.Onge from C

My heartfelt thanks to Eugene Keilin for making a world of difference (for the better) in these oft-times tempestuous negotiations.

Aug. 19 2014 12:10 PM

One simple question. How much of a cut will Mr. Gelb be taking in all this? Fair is fair.

Aug. 19 2014 11:34 AM
Brunnhilde from NYC

Will the Met still be paying for Gelb's apartment or will he finally have to start paying for it himself.....that would save over $12 million a year in the budget and consessions.........

Aug. 19 2014 11:32 AM

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