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

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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."