Wall Street Journal on Peter Gelb: ‘The unions ate his lunch’

Wall Street Journal on Peter Gelb: ‘The unions ate his lunch’


norman lebrecht

August 29, 2014

In a quick counterbalance to its myopic puff-profile of Peter Gelb, the Journal has let Terry Teachout loose on the Met’s union agreements. Alone among US commentators, Teachout calls the capitulation by its proper name and cuts the manager down to size.

He adds: ‘Everything that Mr. Gelb said prior to sitting down to negotiate left the widespread impression that he would do whatever was necessary, up to and including a lockout, to drag the Met back from the brink of financial apocalypse. If he says it all again in four years, nobody will believe him—nor should they.’

Read the full commentary here.




  • David Pickett says:

    Actually the last two paragraphs of the article imply that Mr. Gelb’s initial predictions of doom and gloom for the Met may be accurate…

    • Nick says:

      Agreed – except Gelb’s entire premise was that the ride to the “abyss” (he also used the word “precipice” in the media) would only be halted through the major cuts he always insisted were absolutely vital.

      As contributors to this blog have noted time and again, Gelb’s agreement was a near total capitulation to the Unions. Now we have a professional writer who seems to know quite a bit about the detail which proves that we were right all along. What is even more astounding, though, is the seeming agreement to provide Union members with 50% of any annual investment return on the funds about to be raised for the new endowment campaign in excess of 8%. If true, I am utterly staggered! I simply cannot believe that any Board made up of the rich and the fabulously rich would possibly agree to this. Nor that the hoped-for contributors to the new campaign will agree to what will effectively be some of their donations (albeit as the interest on the donations) being handed over directly to the Unions!

      Assuming the writer is correct, Gelb’s appalling lack experience in running any company like the Met is now exposed for all to see. The man has been humiliated. Even so, I do hope the final sentences in that article are not prophetic, “Given sufficiently bad management, no arts organization is too big, too old or too famous to fail. Not even the Metropolitan Opera.”

    • Ethel Whitehead says:

      Well, perhaps. The thing is, any such article is founded in guesswork, because there really is no precedent either for the specific situation the Met is in or for the remedies that are now being applied. Teachout even admits he doesn’t know all the specifics of the contracts, so who knows how they will work out?

      Teachout is too intelligent, or anyway too well-informed a writer to buy into the silly fiction that Gelb’s proposal of 17% cuts to benefits and work rule-generated overtime pay was an absolute and inflexible position. It was a bargaining position, of course, and the nature of “bargaining” is that the other fellow generally doesn’t accept your first offer.

      I read Teachout with very large dash of salt, particularly when the subject matter of his pieces borders anywhere near politics, which of course this one does in its final paragraphs. He can’t help letting his right-wing anti-union bias slop over into “analysis,” including his off-topic swipe at “the political leaders in Chicago and Detroit” (read: “Democrats.”)

      • Nick says:

        You have an advantage over me as I do not live in the USA, I do not know the writer and rarely read the WSJ. So I gladly defer to your greater understanding in these respects. You and others may well be correct in saying that the “abyss” analogy was purely a negotiating ploy. I happen to believe it was not, though I admit I do not know that for certain. But the essence of the article is surely less how the agreement will work out than

        (a) the nature of what Gelb seems to have given way on – especially that share of investment income from the new endowment, and

        (b) the massive loss to Gelb’s credibility when the next set of Union negotiations comes around.

        In respect of (b), you cannot – you absolutely cannot – cry wolf as many times as he did in the months leading up to a self-imposed lock-out deadline and then not be at least seen to come away from the negotiations with the majority of what you had stated you were seeking. For if you don’t, your credibility is shot to pieces! That is a plain fact, whether you are running a not-for-profit arts organisation or a business or commercial company. If Gelb’s fallback position was indeed much closer to what was finally agreed, then I think he and his PR team did an appalling job. But that still presupposes I am wrong about his ultimate goal. Hopefully other journalists will soon be honing in on this issue and use their own sources to provide us with an accurate answer.

        • Ethel Whitehead says:

          So I take it Peter Gelb’s limousine ran over your puppy, is that it?

        • Andrew Patner says:

          Teachout’s anti-labour and Right-wing politics are well known and longstanding. While what Nick says are the key points in Teachout’s presentation are indeed central and Nick’s additional points are on target, Teachout’s irrelevant throwaway line about “Chicago and Detroit” (tied in to his anti-New York line earlier) undercuts the real seriousness of his wider argument: bad management — board and executive — can be fatal and is never a good thing. It certainly was never the *unions’* fault that the MET board shunned its responsibility to raise, maintain, and protect a serious and appropriate-sized endowment, e.g.

  • Hasbeen says:

    Seriously, do we really need another round of Peter Gelb bashing. Why ? The deals are done, the doors will be open, the performances will happen. Isn’t that what is important ? Endless criticism by the small group of contributors to this site is tiresome and frankly meaningless !

    • Amy says:

      Hasbeen, some of the “small group” of contributors is actually one person under different names. How’s that for tiresome and meaningless…?

      • Hasbeen says:

        If true it is unfortunate that this abuse is not edited out.

        • Nick says:

          For the information of all, I write under one name only – ‘Nick’. I cannot speak for others.

          As for Ethel Whitehead’s stupid response, it does not dignify a comment.

  • Nick says:

    Earlier, Ethel Whitehead made the point “Teachout even admits he doesn’t know all the specifics of the contracts, so who knows how they will work out?”

    That seems odd as, checking back on Parterre Box, I notice that site actually published a copy of one of the Union Agreements on August 20.


    Turns out Terry Teachout was very accurate in most of his points, even including the Unions being given a cut of funds raised for the Endowment Fund. However, it is not an unrestricted percentage share. The amount is capped. The maximum amount going to the Unions will be either $1 million or $2 million depending on the rate of investment returns at the time. Another condition is that if the Met fails to achieve 100% of the combined budgeted revenues from Box Office, Media and Other items, the Endowment Fund Income share payment will not be made.

    As reported, absolutely nothing about cuts in benefits and overtime rates. The only mention is the establishment of joint task forces to see if any changes can be made. If they can not come to an agreement, the existing conditions remain.

    Time will tell how all this works out.