Updated, Friday, August 1, 12 p.m. Cue the William Tell Overture: Metropolitan Opera management and the unions that represent its employees are racing to reach deal that could salvage the 2014-15 Metropolitan Opera season within the next three days.
The contract extension came at the request of a federal mediator who dramatically entered the fray late Thursday night, shortly before the contract was set to expire at midnight. Met general manager Peter Gelb agreed to extend the union’s contract for 72 hours, a short reprieve for employees who Gelb has threatened with a lock out of pay and benefits starting as soon as the contract expires.
Tino Gagliardi, president of Local 802, which is representing the Met orchestra, did not sound overwhelmed with optimism in a statement released late Thursday night: “Settling this dispute in three days is highly unrealistic given Gelb’s proposed draconian cuts.”
On a slightly more positive note, Gagliardi added, “It is our hope that the mediated negotiations will finally yield transparency on the part of Met management, requiring it to prove why it needs upwards of $30 Million in cuts to address a deficit of $2.8 million. We also trust that the mediator will urge management to acknowledge its overspending and role in falling revenues.”
Musicians, stage workers, call center workers and other opera employees (the Met is responsible for some 3,400 jobs in all–1,600 full time employees and 1,800 seasonal workers) will rally Friday morning starting at 9:45 a.m. at Dante Park on the Upper West Side.
Update, 12 p.m.:A few hundred union members and their supporters gathered at Dante Park, directly across Amsterdam Avenue from Lincoln Center, on Friday morning to give an update on their negotiations with Met Opera, and reaffirm their commitment to negotiating a fair contract for their members.
They were joined by Manhattan Borough president Gale Brewer. “This is the greatest orchestra in the world,” Brewer bellowed into the microphone. “Every other orchestra looks up to them and what we cannot have is musicians to leave this orchestra because when they leave this orchestra, they move to other cities other countries, we need to keep the musicians here with the benefits and the salaries and the support that they deserve.”
Brewer was followed by assembly member Linda Rosenthal who warned a lockout, like the one threatened by general manager Peter Gelb, would impact other businesses–restaurants, bars, hotels–in the area. “Lessons of the past have told us lockouts are not good,” Rosenthal said. “We will lose the cultural significance of this opera, of Lincoln Center, of this area if we don’t have a season and that cannot happen. And having a season means treating all of you fairly. Giving you a fair contract.”
Before the rally had even wrapped up, Local 802 had dispatched a release with pleas from additional politicians, including Public Advocate Tish James, New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and State Senator Brad Hoylman, all urging management to back away from the plans to lock employees out.