After a seven-month standoff, Metropolitan Opera management and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 1 have resumed "intensive bargaining," according to the union.
The Met declined to comment on the talks. The opera house has been closed due to the pandemic since March 2020 and has scheduled a gala reopening in September.
Hazards in the House
The long shutdown has taken a toll on the world-famous opera house: a June 2 letter from the New York office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to George Forrest, the Met's safety director, directed him to investigate hazards including scenic backdrops "falling out of lifting mechanisms" and the presence "of molds at the base of the Orchestra pit area."
The letter added, "If we do not receive a response by June 9, 2021 indicating that appropriate action has been taken or that no hazard exists and why, an OSHA inspection will be conducted."
Met management declined comment on the letter.
The resumption of talks with the stagehands comes less than a month after close to 1,000 union members and their supporters gathered outside Lincoln Center to blast what they said was management's attempting to "capitalize on the pandemic" by imposing "draconian pay cuts" as a condition of job security.
The Met had offered $1,500 a week if the union agreed to sign off on close to a 33-percent cut in the pay scale long-term. The proposal included a provision that half of that rollback would be rescinded once ticket sales returned to pre-pandemic levels. After the union rejected that demand, in December management locked out the stagehands.
Cited $150-Million Loss
The Met said the cutbacks were because it had "lost more than $150 million in box-office revenues over the past 14 months" and was "facing the worst economic crisis" in its 137-year history.
A source close to the bargaining said management has told union negotiators it needs to have stagehands back at work by June 14 to meet its production schedule for the Gala and the rest of the opera season.
"We have explained to the Met Opera that a lockout is not a light switch that you can turn on and turn off," IATSE Local One President James J. Claffey Jr. said in a statement. "The Met would like 250 or more of our members to return to work next week to ready the opera house and move sets. However, the Met's take-it-or-leave-it demands at the bargaining table last year, the heartless lockout of workers during a pandemic, and their outsourcing of work overseas. at a time when there was little work to begin with, has created a complete lack of trust."
He said the union would bargain "day and night until an agreement is reached, but until there is a contractual agreement, the stage and shop-crew members will not return to the Metropolitan Opera House."
Milking a Crisis?
IATSE has also alleged the Metropolitan Opera tried to use the pandemic closure to justify shipping craft work overseas and to the West Coast to non-union shops as a way to pressure the union to accept the sharp reductions in wages and benefits. According to published reports, the Met sent production work for "Rigoletto" and "Don Carlos" that would normally be done by union workers in New York to a company in Wales and a non-union operation on the West Coast.
Management countered that it had outsourced similar production work for more than a decade, with 39 of its 79 original productions "manufactured at other shops in the U.S., Canada and abroad."
It called itself "a union house [that] has no desire to undermine Local One or any of our other fourteen unions," adding that it paid stagehands an average of $185,000 a year. Before the pandemic, it employed 3,000 workers and had a $300-million annual budget.
Last month, it reached an agreement with the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents soloists, dancers, actors and stage managers, but also has yet to reach a deal with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the orchestra.
Met Hurting Itself?
At the May 13 rally, Adam Krauthamer, the president of Local 802, told the crowd that the Met's labor issues put the opera company at a competitive disadvantage with other performing-arts venues that were further along in the reopening process.
"Broadway is selling tickets; the Philharmonic is doing performances; they're building stages right before our eyes," he declared. "The Met is the only place that continues to try to destroy its workers' contracts."
In addition to the stagehands, IATSE also includes: Local 764, representing the costume-shop employees and dressers who assist the performers; Local 751, for the Met's box-office employees; Local 798, covering hair and makeup artists; Local 794, which negotiates for the technicians responsible for The Met's live broadcasts; and United Scenic Artist Local 829, which includes scenic artists and as set, lighting, costume and sound designers.
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