Metropolitan Opera reaches deal with union representing chorus

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Metropolitan Opera reaches deal with union representing chorus
The Metropolitan Opera House in New York, March 7, 2021. Members of the Metropolitan Opera’s orchestra and chorus, joined by prominent soloists and led by its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, will give two concerts at the Knockdown Center in Queens on Sunday, May 16, the Met announced on Wednesday, May 12. Amr Alfiky/The New York Times.

by Julia Jacobs

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The Metropolitan Opera, whose efforts to cut the pay of its workers to help it survive the pandemic had left it locked in a bitter dispute with its unions, threatening to derail its planned September reopening, announced Tuesday that it had reached a deal with the union representing its chorus and other workers.

The union, the American Guild of Musical Artists — which also represents soloists, dancers, actors and stage managers — is the first of the three largest Met unions to reach such a deal after months of sometimes-bitter division between labor and management over how deep and lasting the pandemic pay cuts should be. The Met had been seeking to cut the payroll costs for its highest-paid unions by 30%, which it said would cut the take-home pay of those workers by around 20%.

The terms of the deal — the culmination of 14 weeks of negotiations — were not immediately disclosed; the company said they would remain confidential until the union held a vote to ratify the agreement on May 24.

In recent weeks, New York officials have taken steps to loosen the restrictions around live performance, and in recent days several major Broadway shows have announced their intention to resume performances in September and October. But whether the Met can reopen in September, after the pandemic forced the opera house to remain closed for more than a year, depends on how quickly it can resolve its remaining labor problems.

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said in a statement that he was grateful to the guild for “recognizing the extraordinary economic challenges the Met faces in the coming seasons.”

Leonard Egert, the executive director of the guild, said in a statement that the new contract would “ensure the Met becomes a more equitable and better workplace.”

“We are pleased to arrive at a new deal during the most trying time in performing arts’ history,” he said.

The Met’s deal with the guild is just one step toward reopening. The union that represents its stagehands, Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, has been locked out since December, after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on pay cuts. Without its union stagehands, starting performances will likely be impossible. And the union representing the Met’s orchestra is still negotiating its contract.

The opera company, the largest performing arts organization in the nation, says that it has lost $150 million in earned revenues — including ticket sales to the opera house and to its cinema simulcasts, as well as its shop and dining revenues — since the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close its doors more than a year ago. If the Met reopens in September, it will have gone 18 months without live performances in its opera house.

The Met’s management has argued that such a long period of closure — and the uncertainty over the return of its audiences in an era where it could take years for New York City tourism to rebound to pre-pandemic levels — requires it to seek financial sacrifices from its employees. It has said that half of its proposed pay cuts would be restored once ticket revenues and core donations returned to pre-pandemic levels. A number of major American orchestras and opera companies have already negotiated pay cuts with their workers to help them survive the pandemic.

After the opera house was closed, the members of its orchestra and chorus went unpaid for nearly a year. Then the company brought them to the bargaining table with the offer of up to $1,543 a week, less than half of what they are typically paid.

On Thursday, union members are planning to rally in front of Lincoln Center as a display of solidarity during tense negotiations with management. Union leaders have accused the Met’s management of using the pandemic as a reason to force concessions from labor.

If approved, the agreement with the guild will take effect Aug. 1; for now, unions members will continue to receive partial payments.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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