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Metropolitan Opera Unions Rally Against Proposed Pay Cuts

Published Friday, May 14, 2021
by Julia Jacobs & Matt Stevens/The New York Times
Metropolitan Opera Unions Rally Against Proposed Pay Cuts

(NEW YORK CITY) - As New York prepares for the long-awaited reopening of its performing arts sector, with several Broadway shows putting tickets on sale for the Fall, it is still unclear whether the Metropolitan Opera will be able to reach the Labor Agreements it needs to bring up its heavy golden curtain for the gala opening night it hopes to hold in September.

There have been contrasting scenes playing out at the opera house in recent days.

On the hopeful side, the Met is preparing for two concerts in Queens on Sunday (May 16th) - the company’s first live, in-person performances featuring members of its orchestra and chorus and its Music Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, since the start of the pandemic.

And it recently reached a deal on a new contract with the Union that represents its Chorus, Soloists, Dancers and Stage Managers, among others.

But the serious tensions that remain with the company’s other Unions were put on vivid display outside Lincoln Center on Thursday (May 13th), as hundreds of Union Members rallied in opposition to the Met’s lockout of its Stagehands and management’s demands for deep and lasting pay cuts it says are needed to survive the pandemic.

The Workers’ message was clear: Their labor makes the Met what it is, and without them, the opera can’t reopen.

“That’s not the Met Opera,” said James J. Claffey Jr., the President of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents Met Stagehands, pointing over to the opera house. “The greatest stage, the largest stage - it’s empty. It’s nothing without the people that are right in front of me right now.”

Masked Stagehands, Musicians, Ticket Sellers, Wardrobe Workers and Scenic Artists packed the designated rally space, greeting each other with elbow bumps after more than a year of separation.

They wore Union T-shirts and carried signs with messages like, “We Paint the Met” and “We Dress the Met.”

The same chant - “We are the Met!” - was repeated over and over throughout the rally.

The protest made clear the significant labor challenges the Met must overcome to successfully return in the Fall.

Although the opera season is not scheduled to begin until September, the company will need to reach agreements with Local One, which represents its Stagehands, much sooner to load in sets and hold technical rehearsals over the Summer.

The Met has been hoping to bring a significant number of Stagehands back to work beginning in June, but Claffey said Union Members were holding out for a Labor Agreement.

The Met locked out its Stagehands in December after contract negotiations stalled.

The Union has been fiercely opposed to the Met’s assertion that it needs to cut the payroll costs for its highest-paid Unions by 30%, with an intention to restore half of those cuts when ticket revenues and core donations returned to pre-pandemic levels (the Met has said the plan would cut the take-home pay of those Workers by about 20%).

“Regardless of the Met’s plans, Local One is not going to work without a contract,” Claffey said in an interview. “There’s a lockout when you didn’t need us, but when you really need us, it’s going to transition from a lockout to a Strike.”

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