Opera Season May Not Happen Unless Management Reinstates Workers and Acts Fairly
Union tells opera donors and lawmakers in D.C., NYC and Albany to withhold contributions and financial aid until the lockout of opera workers ends.
IATSE launches advertising campaign: “Without People the Opera is Nothing”
NEW YORK, NY — The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents roughly 800 artistic and technical workers at the Metropolitan Opera, is warning in print and through social media that “unless the Met’s management returns to the bargaining table and treats workers fairly, there will be no opera in 2021.”
The advertisements, in response to The Met’s December lockout of IATSE members, begin with the headline: “The Metropolitan Opera Without People Is Nothing.” The ads caution that without additional negotiations: “The Metropolitan Opera House will remain dark and quiet, a vacant warehouse.”
In December, Peter Gelb, The Met’s general manager, announced that he was “locking out” stage technicians and shop crew members such as carpenters and electricians who build sets at The Met and who are represented by IATSE Local 1, cutting off their wages and stopping the production of sets at Met facilities for the 2021 opera season.
The Met’s new season is scheduled to begin in September. Gelb has demanded that IATSE members take a 30 percent. take-it-or-leave-it pay cut that would remain in effect long after the pandemic ends.
“Very few people were working at The Met in this period, barely affecting the bottom line,” said IATSE International President Matt Loeb. “Gelb is cruelly and cynically using the COVID-19 crisis as leverage to stab his workers in the back, cutting off their wages and healthcare payments during the pandemic and putting the future of the opera company in jeopardy.”
IATSE members who work as stagehands, ticket sellers, costumers, lighting designers and technicians, set designers and make-up artists, along with other dedicated Met employees, understand the strain COVID-19 is placing on the performing arts. They are willing to make accommodations during these difficult times. But they are unwilling to accept Gelb’s overreach.
The union is launching a lobbying effort in Washington, Albany and New York to ask lawmakers to exclude The Metropolitan Opera or any other employer in the performing arts from stimulus or arts funds if they have locked out their workers.
“Monies for the arts should not be used to beat up on artists and to fund $1,500-per-hour, union-busting consultants,” said IATSE Local 1 President James Claffey Jr. “This would be a misappropriation of funds.”
“We also know that lovers of opera and patrons of the arts have many choices as to where to spend their money,” Claffey Jr. added. “At this time we’re asking them to withhold contributions to The Met until management returns to the bargaining table and our members are returned to work.”
The union also is briefing government officials of The Met’s rumored plans to outsource set-design work to shops in Russia and other countries and of the inappropriateness of using funds designated to support the arts community here at home.
“It’s time to return to negotiations and settle this matter,” Loeb said. “The Met cannot operate without our people. If the curtain doesn’t go up, it would be a real opera tragedy.”
This is not the first time Gelb has tried to make up for a history of overspending, mismanagement and his own lavish lifestyle by placing unreasonable demands on his workforce. He threatened to lock out Met workers in 2014.
While he claims not to be taking compensation currently, his pay will likely be made up later through deferred compensation or bonuses. Gelb was paid over $2.1 million in combined pay and benefits for running the nonprofit, according to The Metropolitan Opera’s 2020 filing. He is sitting out the pandemic in a luxury midtown apartment provided by the opera company.
Six local unions of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) represent The Metropolitan Opera’s artistic and technical workers.