The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), a union representing about 800 artistic and mechanical workers at the Metropolitan Opera, is launching a campaign across print and social media proclaiming “Without People the Opera is Nothing.” This is in response to the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, looking to enact a long term 30% wage cut on the opera’s workforce. Without both sides coming to terms, it’s possible there will be no opera in 2021.
The Metropolitan Opera is the largest performing arts organization in the United States, with nearly 3,000 employees and an annual budget of over $300 million. According to NPR, when The Met shut down because of COVID last March, the company cited the force majeure provision of its agreement, and made the decision to furlough all union artists and craftspeople. The Met’s new season is scheduled to begin in September 2021.
“Gelb is cruelly and cynically using the COVID-19 crisis as leverage to stab his workers in the back, cutting off their wages and healthcare payments during the pandemic and putting the future of the opera company in jeopardy,” said IATSE International President Matt Loeb on their advocacy website, MetOperaNews.
Amidst the furloughs caused by the pandemic, contracts with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE – which represents workers, from stagehands to make-up artists to box office personnel – expired. NPR reports that the two sides met for several negotiating sessions, beginning last July. The Met offered IATSE members a weekly “bridge” payment of $1,527 during the pandemic, contingent on a 30% pay cut when it was over.
The union offered several counterproposals, says James Claffey Jr., president of IATSE Local 1: “We offered a significant reduction for a year’s time, and we were prepared to actually go for a longer period of time, at an even greater reduction. But we never got there.” Talks broke down in early December, and the union has been locked out since then.
The IATSE has launched an online ad stating “The Met Opera isn’t about balance sheets. Without people, the opera is nothing,” urging patrons and donors to hold back contributions to the Met until IATSE members are reinstated.
The union has also begun a lobbying effort speaking with lawmakers in Washington, DC and in Albany about the company being excluded from stimulus funds, and contacting the 22 NYC mayoral candidates to brief them on the situation.
COVID-19 led to the Met canceling the final months of the 2019-20 season, as well as the entire 2020-2021 season. That’s a total loss of 276 performances and the ticket revenue that comes with it. The Met has been offering free archival releases from its website while offering a series of pay-per-view recitals titled, “Met Stars Live in Concert.”
ILTUWS has reached out to The Met and IATSE for comment.