Met cuts deal with unions. Musicians quietly pleased.

Met cuts deal with unions. Musicians quietly pleased.


norman lebrecht

August 18, 2014

Musicians of the Metropolitan Opera reached a tentative deal with the company several hours after the deadline expired. Judging by the responses of individual members it is a much better deal than the 16% pay cut demanded by Peter Gelb.

Here’s the union statement:

New York, New York—Monday, August 18, 2014The musicians of the Met Orchestra and their union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, announced that they have reached a tentative agreement with the Metropolitan Opera.

Said Tino Gagliardi, president of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802, AFM, which represents the MET Orchestra musicians, “After many hours of deliberation, today we have reached a tentative agreement which is subject to the approval of Local 802’s executive board and ratification by the MET Orchestra Musicians.”

And this from Billy Short, principal bassoon:

Against all odds, our amazing committee (led by the indefatigable Jessica Phillips Rieske) reached a tentative agreement early this morning. I’m in awe and profoundly grateful for their tireless work.

Look at it any way you like. The musicians won every argument. Gelb did not. Happily, all agreed to step back from the brink of disaster.

met seats

The Met’s statement:

We are pleased to announce that earlier this morning the Met successfully reached new agreements with the Met orchestra and chorus. The company has extended the deadline through midnight on Tuesday, August 19, to allow Local One and the other remaining unions with unsettled contracts more time to secure new deals with the institution. We remain hopeful that the company’s 2014–15 season will open on schedule. Thank you for your support of the Met.



  • Lewes says:

    You’ve seen the terms of the agreement, then? How about sharing the details with us?

  • Jeffrey E. salzberg says:

    There are still unions with whom agreements have not been reached.

    …For those who forget that it takes more than musicians to produce opera.

  • Hasbeen says:

    I think it is safe to assume everyone did not get everything they wanted. But sensible compromises were agreed. Any triumphalism should be over a shared agreement.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Let’s refrain from praising the day before the sun has set. Negotiations with the stagehands’ union and nine other smaller unions still take place. I hope these talks will also yield a tentative agreement. And then I cross my fingers that the members of each union involved will ratify the respective agreements. Last not least, I hope that the general public will be given the chance to get to know the contents of the agreements once they are ratified (in clear language so all can understand). Needless to say each union and Mr. Gelb will engage in spin so that nobody loses face. Last not least, I still hope (against the odds) that the MET board will appoint an Artistic Director as well as a Music Director Designate, so that the MET -just maybe- can move forward into the 21st century instead of turning more and more into a relic with each day that passes.

  • Anna says:

    Good news indeed– I hope agreements with the other unions are also satisfactory to all involved.

    A small correction– Billy Short is principal bassoon, not trombone.

  • Marshall says:

    “Look at it any way you like. The musicians won every argument. Gelb did not. Happily, all agreed to step back from the brink of disaster.”

    I’m confused;whose statement is this? Where ever it came from, it’s a stupid thing to say-gloating over a negotiation, a deal, where there had to be give and take.

    One might find Gelb heavy handed, and a bad, insensitive negotiator-but no one with any sense ever thought what he was publicly demanding was even close to what he got. Since we’ll probably not know until a book is written-maybe he got what he expected he’d get?

    • I agree, Marshall. This is exactly the stupid, triumphalist statement which derails negotiations. And for someone speaking for a part of an organization to speak with such lack of respect of the head of that organization leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth

  • William Safford says:

    A minor correction: Billy Short is principal bassoonist of the Met Orchestra.

  • newyorker says:

    There seems to be some misunderstanding regarding the quotes in the above post. Kindly italicize that which Billy Short says, and that which was said by the author of SD.

  • Lewes says:

    5% cuts the first year, 7% cuts second and third years, additional savings from “other” (non-labor) expenses, says the Wall Street Journal.

    • Lendall says:

      Maybe the WSJ has revised the story. Here is what it says now:
      According to members of the unions’ joint negotiating committee, the agreement calls for an immediate 3.5% pay cut for singers and orchestra members, followed by another 3.5% pay cut in six months. Union members wouldn’t see a pay increase until six months into the fourth year, when they would receive a 3% increase.

      The deal, which calls for “equality of sacrifice,” also specifies that management will cut $11.25 million from its expenses outside the bargaining agreements. And it stipulates that Eugene Keilin, the independent financial analyst hired to assist with negotiations, will stay on, paid jointly by the Met and the two unions.

      • Lewes says:

        Possibly the numbers for the first year were reported wrongly in at least one source. You are correct about the 3.5% and 3.5%. Union payroll in FY2013 was reported as $132.1 million, so a the first year’s cut would represent a savings of about $7 million.. Second and third years’ savings would be about $9 million each year. Meanwhile the Met will reduce administrative (non-union costs by an equal amount each year and other expenses by $11.25 million. So the yearly savings will be a little less than $30 million, or around 9% of the total operating budget of the Met.

        This is not a perfect outcome, because $20 million in cuts will come out of a budget item that represents 1/3 of the Met’s expenses, whereas less than $10 million will come from an itme that represent 2/3. There may be some artistic compromises due to reduced funds available for rehearsal time or new productions. But it is a good outcome, because it does for the first time in three decades address the runaway growth in union compensation at the Met. Peter Gelb accomplished the first “giveback” from the unions since the 1970s; that in itself is enough to assure his immortality.

  • Nick says:

    First, I am delighted that compromise has been reached and the Met will stay open. I shudder to think of the consequences were it to have undergone a long-term lock-out.

    Second, I wholly agree with Edgar Brenninkmeyer’s comment. “I hope that the general public will be given the chance to get to know the contents of the agreements once they are ratified (in clear language so all can understand).” So many figures about total incomes, overtime payments etc. were bandied about publicly in the run up to this agreement. It is right and proper that that same public now be provided with some hard facts as opposed to conjecture.

    Third, I do not wholly agree with Marshall’s comment, “no one with any sense ever thought what he [Gelb] was publicly demanding was even close to what he got.” Sorry Marshall, was it not Gelb who stated unequivocally that there would be a lock out unless the Unions agreed to cuts totalling around 16% – 17%.? Was it not Gelb who stated time after time that he was not after base pay cuts, merely in adjustments to work practices that would result in substantial cuts in overtime and benefits? In other words, the regulations under which staff had to work had to be changed to make the Met financially more viable?

    And so what was the result? According to the online wsj article mentioned by Lewes above, cuts to basic pay BUT NO changes to work practices, NO changes to the way overtime is calculated, NO changes to benefits!

    Quote “The singers and orchestra members also preserved their complex work rules, which Mr. Gelb had sought to change.” Unquote

    I accept that the basic pay cuts seem relatively deep and that will inevitably have some effect on overtime costs. But it would seem that Gelb, having gone way out on a limb, has gained little in terms of the very issues he was highlighting beforehand. On the other hand, the continuing presence of the independent financial analyst seems a highly sensible initiative that may ensure what has been hinted in this blog in the past – that some overspending on productions has been syphoned off into other accounts to make the books look more presentable.

    And yet . . . ! Surely this was an issue which the Board itself should have tackled years ago! Should not a Board responsible for the spending of more than $320 million of the public’s money annually already have a Board Finance Committee which includes independent assessors fully capable of analysing the detailed monthly figures to sniff any such sleight-of-hand out? But perhaps that’s an issue for a future thread. In the meantime, let the curtain rise next month on what we hope will be a successful nozze di Figaro.

    • newyorker says:

      “more than $320 million of the public’s money”

      huh? the Met has no such public funding.

      • Nick says:

        That’s not what I was suggesting! Is the income it receives from donors and ticket buyers not from members of the public? All its income is from the public.

        • newyorker says:

          $320 Million of private donations and ticket sales revenue still doesn’t constitute “the public’s money”.

        • Marshall says:

          Nick says:That’s not what I was suggesting! Is the income it receives from donors and ticket buyers not from members of the public? All its income is from the public

          But this statement doesn’t clear up the fact that you simply mispoke in your original-why not just say that?

          It is not “public” money at all, in the sense of European subsidies. (Unless you are giving some extended meaning to the word public)

          It is money from people who purchase tickets for this acitivty-by choice-as they do with everything else in this system. The donors are wealthy people, who would view their money as absolutely not “public’ money!- who choose to donate it (with tax advantages) to the Met, instead of buying a basketball team.

          • Amy says:

            Marshall, I don’t think “Nick” was aiming for clarity in the first place, here.

          • Nick says:

            Where in my short post did I ever refer to subsidies, to taxpayers money or to money from the public purse? Never! The fact is I stated quite openly and absolutely clearly, “$320 million of the public’s money.” That is 100% true! Those who suggested that donors and ticket buyers are not members of the public elected to put their own spin on the statement for their own narrow purposes.

          • Marshall says:

            Amy says: don’t think “Nick” was aiming for clarity in the first place, here.

            That may be, and that’s another story. But assuming he was aiming for it,he didn’t achieve it. Why not just say it could have been clearer, or here’s a better way to say it?

          • Nick says:

            Oh dear! Oh dear! It would obviously have been clearer if those who had read what I wrote had not approached the text with preconceived notions. Anyone who has read my posts in recent months will know that I am perfectly well aware of the differences between the US system of funding the arts and the European model. In blogs, it is far too easy for some to jump in without thinking! I chose my words with deliberate care and made no error.

  • Lewes says:

    was it not Gelb who stated unequivocally that there would be a lock out unless the Unions agreed to cuts totalling around 16% – 17%.?

    No, actually he said nothing of the sort. What he said was this:

    “If we are not able to reach agreements by July 31 that would enable the Met to operate on an economically sound basis, please plan for the likelihood of a work stoppage beginning Aug. 1.”

    The above statement was quoted on this site:

    Gelb did not say “cuts totaling around 18%,” but rather the rather more flexible language “agreements… that would enable the Met to operate on an economically sound basis.”

    In other word, Gelb got what he wanted, even if he didn’t get everything in his first bargaining position. I realize you hate him, but that doesn’t entitle you to make up your own facts.

  • Marshall says:

    I think Lewes does have a point;you do seem a bit irrational about Gelb.

    As to my remarks you missed the point. They were negotiating ploys-on the part of all the parities, by the way. You keep spinning your wheels about what he said, when he said it, and how much he expected. I mean you didn’t accept them at face value, did you? Did you ever conduct a negotiation, did you ever “do” politics? You stake out a position, you posture, you make demands-if you are management-knowing you’re not going to get what you want.

    But you-we-don’t know anything about what he really thought he could get. That’s why I joked we won’t know-if ever-until someone writes a tell all book-which I hope,-as is the fashion today-will not be for a while, so that it doesn’t taint other negotiations. One could view the fact that he got actual concessions in salaries as a huge triumph for him, given that it has been decades since that has happened, and it has been a union article of faith that salaries only go up.

    I think that the way the whole story has been presented here is not the most objective way of viewing it-as I see the spin always favors the musicians. Only fools would think anyone should be gloating here. The Met is saved for now, but the future of opera is not. (the deeper problems that Gelb tried to address, and failed IMO, remain.) It is interesting to see responses elsewhere to this situation, people who are not strictly opera fans and how they react to the unions. Unions are hated now in America, and the percentage of the work force unionized here, is amazingly low from even a generation ago. So
    the man on the street views, particularly the benefits as outrageous, because in our real world they would get nothing like that anymore at their own jobs. (Obviously my own view is that society should generously reward these fine artists-but as I keep saying-that is not how art, music etc. is viewed here)

    I do also agree that having the continuing financial oversight, could be a positive, in maintaining an open book (i guess to a degree) on the real financial state, but also in building a general public attitude that this is not just a business. (but I see later it’s already been spun it into an anti-Gelb thing)

    Frankly, I wish it had all been conducted in a more grown up manner. Imagine the parties saying we have a problem-and neither is without responsibility, but we all love and value this institution-let’s sit down and hash a deal out, give and take, compromise, and work out a plan together. But the world usually doesn’t work that way-and if it weren’t an opera company, they’d probably have turned to violence.

  • Amy says:

    “Nick”…I know you’re laying bait here, and I’ll get to why that may be in a moment, but I just have to laugh when you say “Where in my short post did I ever refer…” and on and on. Well over 450 words in that short post, “Nick”!!

    That level of word-vomit/rabbit hole/conversation diversion/failure to address the point…well, that sure sounds like it came straight from Pamela, the author who wrote a blog called”Tools of a Propagandist”, from which I quote:

    Repeating false statements — long after they have been corrected, they will continue to repeat a series of false statements regarding the target’s position on any issue…
    Doublespeak — they will be appearing to speak on one level while actually conveying ad homs. The rhetoric will appear to be chatty and informative, but in fact, is negative and vicious.
    Reversespeak — Whatever underhanding trick they are trying to pull they will immediately blame on the target…
    False attribution — they will create an “argument” out of a false statement, using false logic, and then come to a false conclusion which they will claim to be “true”….
    Vague threats and curses — they will throw in odd statements that do not seem to have a connection to anything, but are nebulous and unnerving.

    -end quoted text-

    I’m sorry that there are people who spend their time crafting and specializing in this kind of abuse on the internet. I wish they wouldn’t, and extend the hand of compassion to anyone hurt by them.

    – Amy Adams, friend of lots of musicians

    • Nick says:

      Haha! Yes, indeed, my posts are rarely short, I admit. But if you follow the ‘thread’ of the threads, you’ll note that the one I referred to has just 29 words. It was in response to NEWYORKER at 6:04 am and then the much later responses by you, NEWYORKER and MARSHALL. I was winding no-one up nor laying bait. I was stating a fact, pure and simple. Doesn’t anyone actually read what is written? If the money the Met receives is not from the public, then where does it come from? I am all agog!

    • Pamela Brown says:

      Taking a thread OT tends to run the risk of being distracting, Amy..

      • Amy says:

        “OT”…is that off-topic? (so much to learn from the experts….!)
        Yes. No one would know better than you, Pamela.

  • William Safford says:

    Nick (and others), I think there’s confusion by your use of the word “public.”

    In the U.S., the term “public” is generally associated with government monies.

    Monies donated from individuals, corporations, charities, etc. are generally referred to as “private.”

    I do not know how much of the Met’s money comes from public — government — sources, but it is not much. The vast majority is private.

    • Nick says:

      I appreciate your comment, William. But I repeat yet again, my earlier post was 100% correct. The fact that others chose to misinterpret it can not be laid at my door. I stated quite clearly “$320 million of THE public’s money.” All the Met’s income comes from THE public’s money – many thousands of members of the public. I defy anyone to state unequivocally that this is not true!

      Interesting how several posters claim one or more posters have not provided evidence of what they claim. Then when evidence is provided, they disappear. One example is Lewes. I have provided ample proof that Gelb tied failure to achieve cuts of around 17% to a lock-out, a point Lewes tackled me on several posts. Now remains silent!

      • William Safford says:

        Nick, what if I told you that Eton is not a public school, because its funding does not primarily come from the government?

        You would either be very confused, or you would correct me on my terminology. Of course it’s referred to in England as a public school, because of its history of not restricting admission to one religious group, region, etc.

        In a similar way, in your message you used incorrect terminology, at least in an American context — which is where the Metropolitan Opera is located.

        The Metropolitan Opera is almost exclusively funded by private funds. That is what we call it when monies come from a source other than the government. When the funding comes from the government, it is “public” funding.

        To write that the Met is funded by “the public” is, to put it charitably, at best technically correct; but it is unidiomatic, and obfuscates the true nature of the Met’s funding.

        To insist that your terminology is “true” and it’s other’s fault that you have been misinterpreted is, well, untrue and invalid.

        So, if clear and accurate discussion is important to you, correcting what you wrote and harmonizing your use of technical terms with the audience for your message will yield improved results.

    • Marshall says:

      :William Safford says I think there’s confusion by your use of the word “public.” In the U.S., the term “public” is generally associated with government monies. –

      Yes, exactly…but there are always going to be people who are incapable of admitting they made a mistake-or were even unclear-they just can’t bear it.How many more people does this guy need to say it was confusing before he realizes it was? Any American who hears the term “Public’s”money, not generally, but immediately thinks taxpayer’s money. Note how he replies to you-that he has to be !00% correct, not even 99%. No one was trying intentionally to misinterpret it, or approached it with pre-conceived notions-they interpreted it that way because it was confusing.

      And the endless repetitious hammering about Gelb-repeating what he said and when-we all know that–so Gelb said it, completely ignoring that there is something called negotiating, and fall back positions.Now Gelb has a deal.

      For god sake it’s just a blog-say what you want, have some give and take, and move on- whether right or wrong, people will always have their own interpretations-live with it.

      I have not read Nick’s post for “months” but in an exchange I had with him on the topic:
      Gelb blinks, agrees to mediation

      it became clear to me that he has a foggy sense of American arts funding, and American culture (if we can call it that)and apparently American usage- Here’s an example from that exchange:

      “”The audience in Europe certainly seems more democratically based, partly I suspect a result of subsidy which keeps some ticket prices gneerally lower (although to be fair, Europeans do not get anywhere near the level of donations as in the US – so they kind of cancel each other out),

      A fundamental misunderstanding if you believe there is some equivalence between state subsidies and the US system of begging for bucks
      If anyone has the interest you can see my answers to that and other related topic

      I’m sure he’ll come back again that he is 105% correct but…….

      • Nick says:

        I do indeed come back again! What I wrote was very, very clear – “$320 million of the PUBLIC’S money”. Not “public” money. Not taxpayers’ money.

        I fully agree that donations in the US sense are usually regarded as private money. But tell me this. The Met Board gets only about half its revenues in this manner. Do those who have criticised the choice of wording seriously suggest that the other half (approximately) of the Met’s income from ticket buyers is also described as private money? Of course it is not! It is money from a very diverse ticket-buying public. The sum total of the Board’s income of around $320 million is therefore from members of the public. It is the public’s money. End of discussion.

        Except that Marshall claims my knowledge of the US system of funding if “foggy”, yet he states very clearly that it involves – in his words – “begging for bucks.” So tell me this, Marshall. Is begging for bucks not begging for funding from the public? Now who is getting confused!

        • Marshall says:

          I had no intention of saying anything else-I. and others had made their points. Dealing with this guy reminded me of why my interest in these blogs waned after the early years. The encounters with the unreasonable, the ones who must always be 100% right, 100% of the time, the endlessly argumentative, who will beat a subject over and over-as if ,in their minds ,if they don’t stop they will be right, etc. I always imagine them hunched over their keyboards, in a hot sweat, launching their next triumphal post……The only difference is that most blogs are moderated now(or controlled by an individual) so the crude, personal attacks are prevented. (I see you added even another. Yes, my point was had I read you for months I wouldn’t have engaged in that earlier exchange-I would have known better!)

          In any case I was reading the NYT’s article on funding for the Turin opera house, and read this paragrpah, and couldn’t help laughing out loud. It speaks for itself.


          “While many Italian companies have been chaotic for years, the challenges have grown much more serious recently, as the heavily indebted country has struggled to comply with rules on budget deficits imposed by the European Union. THESE HAVE RESULTED IN LESS PUBLIC MONEY FOR MANY OPERA HOUSES, WHICH HAVE LONG RELIED ON LARGE PUBLIC SUBSIDIES”.

      • Nick says:

        “I have not read Nick’s post for “months” . . .”

        Now I am a little unclear. Do you refer to one specific post, or to my posts in general? If you refer only to that earlier discussion, I am sure you recall it was quite amicable with an interesting exchange of views, I thought. But surely posts written at the end of July hardly took place “months” ago? Weeks, perhaps.

        If you refer to my posts in general, it may also have slipped your mind that you read and responded to my posts on the IVAN FISHER: ‘SYMPHONY ORCHESTRAS HAVE ONLY A FEW DECADES LEFT’ thread. That was started by NL on August 13, and we again had an amicable exchange of posts on August 16 and 17. Indeed, you started one post “Some good points there Nick . . .” All less than a week ago.

        But then confusion is often in the eye of the beholder.