It’s deadline day for the Metropolitan Opera. The musicians’ contract with the opera company is scheduled to run out at midnight on Thursday, and general manager Peter Gelb has threatened to suspend pay or benefits if a contract is not reached in time.
“It would be prudent for all Met employees to anticipate and prepare for the absence of Met income in the fall and winter of 2014, and perhaps even longer,” Gelb warned employees in a letter distributed at the start of the year.
Negotiations, in progress for months, have faltered in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s deadline, as the union has fired off press releases alternately blasting Gelb’s “failed management and lack of artistic vision” and suggesting alternatives to cutting musician salaries, options they say could save the company as much as $37.7 million dollars. (Proposals included blacking out The Met Live in HD showings in the Northeast corridor, which the union estimated could recoup as much as $2,900,000 in lost box office revenue.)
Management is seeking to cut salaries for members of the chorus (average: $200,000) and orchestra (median: $191,000).
Gelb’s own salary has been redacted from tax documents posted on the Metropolitan Opera’s website (as a nonprofit, the opera is required to make form 990 publicly available), but a copy of the 2011 990 obtained by the Voice lists Gelb’s base salary as $1.28 million, inching up to $1.4 million when additional compensation was factored in.
Last month, the New York Times reported Gelb received a raise in 2012, increasing his total pay to $1.8 million (the opera told the paper Gelb has since taken a pay cut).
The Metropolitan Opera has struggled in recent years as attendance declined. The nonprofit ended last year’s season with a deficit of $2.8 million.
During negotiations on Wednesday, management raised the possibility of bringing in a federal mediator. (It wouldn’t be unprecedented: President John F. Kennedy tapped the secretary of labor to step in in 1961; in 1980, President Jimmy Carter likewise ordered a federal mediator to intervene.)
In a statement on Thursday, Local 802 president Tino Gagliardi said, “We are considering it, and we believe it would have a much greater chance of success if Peter Gelb would back off his lockout threats and extend the current contract.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a statement urging Gelb to reconsider the lockout also on Thursday. “For over 130 years, the Met has been a fixture of New York City’s cultural life — a place where the world’s greatest performers have inspired millions of people from across the five boroughs and every corner of the globe,” Stringer said. “The Met’s performers, stagehands, technicians, and assistants deserve a fair outcome, as do the scores of restaurants, shops and other vendors that rely on the Opera for their livelihoods. I urge the Met to extend negotiations and not lockout its union workers.”