We’ve received an exchange of letters between the Met general manager to the orchestra musicians. Gelb is offering ‘bridge pay’ to the musicians. The only condition is that the union begins ‘good faith negotiations’ on a drastic pay cut.
The union president Adam Krauthammer has rejected this offer out of hand – just as Gelb will have expected him to do. He tells Gelb: ‘We refuse to take the bait and be treated like pawns or to fight each other in a race to the bottom.’
You read these documents only on Slipped Disc, which is based in England. No journalist in New York, least of all the lazy Times, is digging into the scandal of the Met’s refusal to pay its musicians for almost a year.
Here’s the state of play.
Letter 1: Gelb to Musicians:
Dear Members of the Orchestra,
I would like to make sure that you are fully aware of our offer to provide bridge pay during the health crisis. We first made a proposal to the Orchestra Committee in the final week of December for an initial period of eight weeks, with the only requirement being that your Committee begin good faith negotiations. We have now entered into such an arrangement with the Chorus and the other full-time Met employees represented by AGMA. The agreement with AGMA commences next week.
Under the plan, we are paying chorus members $1,543 per week, in one of two ways. For those employees who are not receiving unemployment benefits because they already have other sources of income, we are paying the full $1,543 per week. For those employees who are receiving unemployment payments (including stimulus payments), under a SUB plan consistent with IRS regulations, we are paying the difference between $1,543 and whatever amount of unemployment insurance that they are receiving. At the end of the eight-week period, our hope is that we will have achieved a new CBA that will include bridge pay for the duration of the health crisis. In the event that we haven’t reached an agreement, but believe that good progress has been made, we will keep paying the bridge payments while we continue to negotiate.
Instead of agreeing to our offer, your Committee has insisted upon receiving larger payments. This would not be fair to the AGMA members, who have not only agreed to our offer, but did so first. In the interest of fairness, we believe it should be the same amount of $1,543 for both the Orchestra and the Chorus. Our offer to provide this kind of financial assistance, with no requirement other than to negotiate in good faith, is without a down side. It will provide some immediate relief, and hopefully it will also open the possibility of reaching a long-term agreement that will provide continuing payments.
Although your Committee has chosen not to accept our offer, it remains available should the Committee wish to reconsider.
I understand that there are enormous feelings of frustration and desperation during this unprecedented health and economic disaster. But please be assured that we will continue to pay for your health coverage for the duration of the pandemic. And ever since the late summer, we have stated that we would be willing to try to raise the funds to make bridge payments, as part of long-term deals that are so necessary to the future survival of the Met and the long-term security of your jobs.
Meanwhile, we would like to begin paying you. Let’s start working together to find a path forward, so that we are ready to perform again once the health crisis is over.
Letter 2: Union to Gelb:
This is a response to the e-mail you sent on Feb. 1 to the entire MET Orchestra. Please note the entire orchestra has been copied on this response.
Your e-mail was a cheap attempt to create division, and it was an absurdly desperate attempt to break our ranks. You of all people should know that you aren’t allowed to negotiate any terms and conditions of employment behind the backs of the musicians’ official collective bargaining agent. The goal that you and your large negotiating team have stated many times is to get to a deal as bargaining partners in good faith. I can assure you that going around the orchestra’s elected committee will not help you achieve this goal.
I would say that I’m surprised by your behavior — but sadly I’m not. You seem to be set on continuing the same pattern of bad faith bargaining you started this summer while dangling bridge pay directly to furloughed workers in exchange for gutting their CBA’s. That effort to use the pandemic as an opportunity to extort major concessions has been a failure.
Furthermore, we reject your bid to divide and conquer the various arts workers at the Met. We’re aware that the chorus has accepted your eight-week bridge pay offer. The structure of this plan simply doesn’t work for us, not only because it offers our group a significantly lower percentage of our base salaries than the chorus – which it, in fact, does – but because it doesn’t give fair compensation to our members.
As you know, we countered your proposal with a creative solution that is equitable for the entire orchestra and would still offer you significant savings on your weekly salary obligations. You rejected our offer outright, saying “we can’t do different plans for different unions.”
It’s nonsensical for the Met to state this when the unions are not contingent on each other. Each union represents a group that brings unique elements to the opera; therefore each group requires different treatment.
Moreover, the Met has already demonstrated its willingness to treat different units differently bylocking out our stagehand colleagues and failing to offer them a similar “bridge-pay agreement.”
We refuse to take the bait and be treated like pawns or to fight each other in a race to the bottom. No matter what desperate attempt you make, the orchestra will not be divided. We are one union.
It’s a mark of shame that the MET Orchestra remains the only major orchestra in the U.S. that has not been paid since the start of the pandemic. The Met musicians are among a small group of the most elite performers in the world. That fact must be respected both artistically and economically.
Finally, do yourself a favor. Stop negotiating in the press and stop negotiating illegally through e-mail blasts to the orchestra. We remain ready to negotiate a fair deal and have made a good faith proposal back in November that you have yet to respond to. Rather than engaging in these silly back-and-forth tactics like e-mailing the orchestra and bypassing the committee, let’s focus on getting to a better future for all of us.
President & Executive Director
Associated Musicians of Greater New York
Local 802, AFM