Met Opera Workers Walk the Line—Online
Locked-Out Stagehands and Skilled Craftspeople Joined by Union Supporters Launch First-of-Its-kind Interactive “Virtual Picket Line”
New York—In recent weeks, hundreds of members and allies of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the union representing the Metropolitan Opera’s stagehands and skilled craftspeople, gathered in person in front of Lincoln Center to protest the opera company locking out its workers. Now, the union is taking the fight online with the images of hundreds more in a first-of-its-kind interactive virtual picket line.
Taking part in this electronic demonstration, which can be seen at MetOperaPicketLine.com, are stagehands, costumer and wardrobe employees, lighting designers and technicians, set designers and craftsmen, make-up artists, broadcast technicians and ticket sellers, along with other supporters, including many opera fans.
“Met Opera workers have a tremendous community standing beside them in solidarity, and our digital capabilities allow us to showcase that 24 hours a day, all across the world,” said Jonas Loeb, IATSE’s director of communications. “If bosses like Met General Manager Peter Gelb are going to use an unprecedented pandemic as an excuse to reach into workers’ pockets and undercut their livelihood, we will respond with equally unprecedented and innovative digital tactics.”
Once photos of supporters are uploaded, they are scrolled in front of an image of Lincoln Center, home of the famed opera company. “This was set up to be as easy as possible for anyone to participate in. Head to the site, submit a photo and you’re on the line. It’s that simple,” Loeb added.
The Met Opera’s management team and board of directors, led by Gelb, have used the COVID-19 pandemic as leverage to seek concessions from the opera’s workforce. In December, the Met Opera’s management presented IATSE Local One, which represents 350 of IATSE’s 800 members at the Met, with a take-it-or-leave-it, long-term 30% pay cut. When the local and its members who work as stagehands, electricians, carpenters and in other skilled crafts rejected the offer, management locked them out.
The Met also outsourced the production of sets for three of this season’s operas to either nonunion shops or production companies overseas, depriving the Met’s workers of employment during the pandemic, when any work in the performing arts was scarce. The Met was the only employer in the performing arts to lock out workers during the pandemic.
No talks, formal or informal were held for seven months, until the two sides began intensive bargaining the week of June 14. The Met says it needs stagehands and shop crews to return this month to prepare for the September opening of the 2021–2022 opera season, or the season will be in jeopardy. The union says they will not return to work without a contract.
A disclaimer on the site states “the virtual picket line is for educational purposes, to publicize this matter to the general public, and to demonstrate union solidarity. It is designed to inform the general public, customers, and donors of the ongoing labor issues at the Met.” IATSE is not asking anyone to withhold labor or boycott the Met, at this time.
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