Metropolitan Opera Reaches Deal With Third Major Union, Allowing Season to Open As Scheduled

2:33 AM PST 08/20/2014 by Jonathan Handel
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With labor peace apparently assured, a new "Le Nozze di Figaro" is set to premiere Sept. 22

The Metropolitan Opera announced early Wednesday morning that it reached a deal with the third of its three major unions, effectively averting a labor crisis that could have delayed or destroyed the 2014-2015 season, set to begin in just four weeks. The announcement of a deal with IATSE Local One, representing stagehands, came two days after the Met reached deals with unions representing its musicians and singers.

Still to come on Wednesday are negotiations with eight smaller unions representing other crews, but the Met said that all are expected to reach agreements.

"The new contract with Local One, subject to ratification, will provide the institution with savings comparable to those achieved through the recent agreements with [American Federation of Musicians] Local 802 and [the American Guild of Musical Artists]," said the Met in a statement, referencing the musicians' and singers' unions. Local 802 also represents music librarians, and AGMA also represents dancers, directors and stage managers.

IATSE international president Matthew Loeb called the deal "fair," but he said that reaching it "wasn't easy." He added that the agreement "offers a way to get the Met on a track for success."

The Opera said that pre-season rehearsals and preparations will continue "without interruption" and that the season "will open as scheduled on Sept. 22 with a new production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro." Operas will continue to be simulcast to movie theaters in HD, a $60 million a year business that was at risk. The season will include 221 performances of 26 operas in six new productions and 18 revivals.

That schedule was imperiled until the agreements reached two days ago with the aid of federal mediators signaled that labor and management had both finally blinked. Prior to that, contract negotiations that started in February had produced little movement and much bitterness, with Met general manager Peter Gelb threatening to lock out about 2,500 workers when their contracts expired July 31.

That lockout deadline was extended four times — including once for about a week as an independent expert studied the Met's finances — before deals with the AFM and AGMA were reached. The unions accepted cuts of 7 percent, much lower than the 16 percent level that Gelb had sought, and management also agreed to cut expenses.

In addition, in an unusual concession, the Met agreed that independent financial analyst Eugene Keilin will continue to monitor the organization's finances, reporting to both management and labor. The Met's endowment has been shrinking in recent years as ticket sales declined and the opera spent money from the endowment to make up the shortfall. Union leaders have blamed Gelb for staging what the unions say have been too many risky — and unsuccessful — new productions.

The new IATSE deal also includes "mandatory cost reductions from management and an independent monitor to track budget performance," the union said Wednesday morning.

On July 31, the original contract deadline, the Met reached new agreements with three of its smaller unions: Local 32BJ, which represents ushers, ticket takers, cleaning staff, porters, security guards and office service workers; Local 210, which represents the call center; and Local 30, which represents building engineers.

The remaining unions with unsettled contracts include six unions represented by IATSE: Local 751 (box office treasurers), Local 764 (costume and wardrobe), Local 794 (camera operators), Local 798 (wigs, hair and makeup), Local USA 829 (scenic artists and designers), Local 829EE (bill poster), Local Four (parks crew) and Local 1456 (painter). 

Aug. 20, 3:45 a.m. Updated with statement from IATSE.

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