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THE SCOOP | The Metropolitan Opera And Union Paves The Way To Open Next Season

By Michael Vincent on July 6, 2021

Metropolitan Opera
Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local One, the stagehands’ union, have reached a tentative agreement that might keep the MET Opera on track to reopen in September.

The news follows a lengthy battle between the IATSE Local One union and a COVID shuttered MET Opera after the stagehands’ contract expired July 31, 2020. Things turned ugly when the company locked out 350 union members after negotiations surrounding wage cuts fell apart on December 8, 2020.

According to a press release issued by the union, negotiations have been running round-the-clock from the end of June through July 4.

The tentative agreement will be put up for a ratification vote by union members on July 18. Ahead of the vote, union members are expected to return to work Wednesday, July 7, 2021.

While the details have yet to be officially released, OperaWire has reported the deal includes a 4.5 per cent pay cut over three years. There will also be a payment for eight weeks of bridge pay.

Bad Blood

After being locked out, the IATSE filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board after they alleged Met opera managers ignored information requests and adequately address safety issues.

“Getting to this point required overcoming hard feelings due to the lockout of our members and crafting some innovative solutions,” said union president James J. Claffey Jr.  “We were coming down to the wire. If talks had dragged on any longer it may have been impossible to prepare the opera house for a September opening. This agreement makes it possible for the 2021-2022 opera season to begin as scheduled.”

After seven months of near-silence, Peter Gelb approached the union last month to begin talks. Contract talks began on June 7, and unlike earlier rounds of negotiations in 2020, Gelb was present at the bargaining table.

“It would have been a new kind of opera tragedy if the Met remained closed, but we’re not done yet,” said IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb. “Our union has many members at the Met beyond those represented by Local One. We need to make sure that their contracts are settled and their issues are addressed.”

Down to the Wire

IATSE Local One wasn’t the only labour union fighting the Met Opera.

Despite being furloughed without pay, Met artists were kept on contract, which was viewed as a mandatory unpaid leave rather than layoffs by the American Guild of Musical Artists, representing the chorus and singers.

After nearly a year with no pay, the Metropolitan Opera orchestra musicians accept a deal that provided them with paychecks in exchange for returning to the bargaining table.

The company sought pay cuts that it asserted were necessary to survive the pandemic.

“Even before the pandemic, the economics of the Met were extremely challenging and in need of a reset,” wrote Met Opera General Manager Peter Gelb. “With the pandemic, we have had to fight for our economic survival.”

The American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents the orchestra, and the Met negotiated an agreement in May. The orchestra’s contract with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians expires on July 31, and discussions are underway.

Why this matters 

  • The Met Opera was forced to close due to the pandemic on March 11, 2020 — cancelling 276 performances as well as an international tour.
  • With the return to in-person concerts insight, stagehands and skilled craftspeople will be needed to prepare for the beginning of the 2021-22 season.  These 350 workers are responsible for broadcasting the stage productions, lighting and paint backdrops, wardrobes and costumes, and hair and makeup.
  • The Met announced they plan to perform Verdi’s Requiem on September 11 to mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The Met Opera season is scheduled to open on September 27 with Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones.

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Michael Vincent
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