The Met Opera’s Musicians, Unpaid Since April, Are Struggling

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lennygoran
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The Met Opera’s Musicians, Unpaid Since April, Are Struggling

Post by lennygoran » Tue Mar 16, 2021 8:16 am

The Met Opera’s Musicians, Unpaid Since April, Are Struggling

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About 40 percent of the players have left the New York area, and a tenth have retired. Now the Met is seeking long-term pay cuts, and offering them partial pay if they come to the bargaining table.



By Julia Jacobs

March 15, 2021

As the months without a paycheck wore on, Joel Noyes, a 41-year-old cellist with the Metropolitan Opera, realized that in order to keep making his mortgage payments he would have to sell one of his most valuable possessions: his 19th-century Russian bow. He reluctantly switched back to the inferior one he had used as a child.

“It’s kind of like if you were a racecar driver and you drove Ferraris on the Formula One circuit,” Mr. Noyes said, “and suddenly you had to get on the track in a Toyota Camry.”

The Metropolitan Opera House has been dark for a year, and its musicians have gone unpaid for almost as long. The players in one of the finest orchestras in the world suddenly found themselves relying on unemployment benefits, scrambling for virtual teaching gigs, selling the tools of their trade and looking for cheaper housing. About 40 percent left the New York area. More than a tenth retired.

After the musicians had been furloughed for months, the Met offered them reduced pay in the short term if they agreed to long-term cuts that the company, which estimates that it has lost $150 million in earned revenues, says it will need to survive. When the musicians resisted, the Met offered to begin temporarily paying them up to $1,534 a week — less than half their old pay, but something — if they simply returned to the bargaining table, a proposal the musicians are weighing.

Now the Met’s increasingly rancorous labor battles — it has locked out its stagehands, and outsourced some set construction to Wales — are adding more uncertainty to the question of when the opera house can reopen after its long pandemic shutdown.

The toll on the players has been steep.

Benjamin Bowman, 41, is one of the orchestra’s two concertmasters — a leader of the first violin section who serves as a conduit between players and maestros. He and his family moved to Stuttgart, Germany, where he took a temporary job with the state orchestra. Daniel Khalikov, 37, a violinist, has been struggling to make the $2,600-a-month loan payments for his two fine violins. Angela Qianwen Shen, 30, a violinist who is not able to collect unemployment because she is in the United States on a visa, picked up some translation work to make ends meet.

And Evan Epifanio, 32, the orchestra’s principal bassoonist, put his belongings in storage in June and left the city for the Midwest, where he said he and his husband have been dividing their time between the homes of his parents and his in-laws.

“I’m living in my in-laws’ basement at the peak of my career,” Mr. Epifanio said. “I’m a one-trick pony, and now I can’t even do that.”


Over the past year, 10 of the orchestra’s 97 members have retired, a stark increase from the two to three who retire in an average year, said Brad Gemeinhardt, the chairman of the orchestra committee, which negotiates labor issues on behalf of the musicians. Prominent figures in the music world are sounding warnings about the peril the orchestra faces: Riccardo Muti, the revered conductor, said in a statement earlier this year that the “artistic world is in disbelief that the very existence of a great orchestra like the Met’s could be in danger and even at risk of disappearing.”

The Met, which was financially fragile even before the virus, was forced to shut its doors on March 12, 2020, and it furloughed most of its workers, including those in its orchestra and chorus, in April. (It continued to pay for their health coverage.) In the fall, the Met presented an offer to its employees: it would resume partial payments in exchange for significant long-term pay cuts and concessions. The unions resisted. By the end of the year the Met orchestra was the only major ensemble without a deal to receive pandemic pay, according to the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians.

Then, in December, the company locked out its roughly 300 stagehands after their union, Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, rejected the Met’s proposed pay cuts. (In a letter to the union last year, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, wrote that the average full-time stagehand cost the Met $260,000 in 2019, including benefits; the union disputes that number, saying that when the steady extra stage hands who work at the Met regularly, and sometimes full-time, are factored in, the average pay is far lower.)

Mr. Gelb said that the company had no choice but to seek cuts when the pandemic left it in a perilous financial situation.
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“Suddenly we had no revenue, we had shut our doors and we had to do immediate triage so that the company would not fall apart and fold,” Mr. Gelb said. “We are doing the best we can in terms of keeping the company viable so that they will have jobs to return to.”

At the end of last year, the Met offered the unions that represent the orchestra and chorus an olive branch: reduced paychecks for simply coming to the bargaining table. The American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents choristers, dancers and others, accepted the arrangement in January, and its members are receiving paychecks. Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians has not yet accepted the offer, Adam Krauthamer, the union’s president, said, but it is in the final stages of reaching a deal that the orchestra is voting on.

Jeremy McCoy, who rose to assistant principal double bass while playing in the orchestra for 35 years, retired in May. Mr. McCoy, 57, said that he had been contemplating an early retirement, but not quite this early. When he realized that the Met’s furlough could last a long time, he said, he put in his papers, a decision that would allow him to begin collecting his pension rather than having his expenses eat into his savings indefinitely.

Mr. McCoy said he was repelled by the idea of returning to an adversarial relationship between the musicians and management.

“I don’t want to go back to big concessions and to a toxic environment,” he said.


The Met said it was seeking to cut the payroll costs for its highest-paid unions by 30 percent — the change in take-home pay would be approximately 20 percent, it said — and that when ticket revenues and core donations returned to prepandemic levels, it would restore half of what had been cut. The Met declined to disclose the current average pay of its musicians, but during the run-up to contentious labor negotiations in 2014, officials said that the players had been paid an average of around $202,000 the prior year.

Many orchestras have reached agreements for substantial, lasting pay cuts, including the New York Philharmonic, whose musicians agreed to 25 percent cuts to their base pay through August 2023. Mr. Krauthamer said that the Met Orchestra’s union had put forward its own proposal, which would cut pay but preserve work rules that the Met was seeking to change.

Some orchestra members have said that they felt betrayed that the opera was not using its musicians in “Met Stars Live in Concert,” the pay-per-view recitals it has been producing from opulent settings in Europe. Most feature only piano accompaniment. A Met official with knowledge of the situation said that for the other performances, members of the company’s orchestra were not included because of the difficulties of travel during the pandemic and because of ongoing labor negotiations.

The Met Orchestra has started staging its own virtual concerts and collecting donations to distribute to musicians in need. The most recent, starring the soprano Angela Gheorghiu, singing from Romania, began by clarifying that the performance was “not affiliated with the Metropolitan Opera.”


Between stagehands and management, the temperature is even higher.

Since the lockout, the work of preparing sets for the coming season has gone to nonunion shops elsewhere in this country and overseas. The Met regularly commissions set-building outside the institution, but these jobs had been slated to be done internally.

Sets for two operas scheduled to premiere at the Met next winter, “Rigoletto” and “Don Carlos,” are being built by Bay Productions, a company in Cardiff, Wales; the set for “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” will be built in California. With the sets being built elsewhere, the Met’s scenic painters are losing work even though they have not been locked out because there is nothing for them to paint, so they remain on furlough, said Cecilia Friederichs, a national business agent for the United Scenic Artists union.

But the company will still need stagehands if it wants the show to go on this fall, said James J. Claffey Jr., the president of Local One.

“You don’t even get to an opening night without us,” he said.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has launched a lobbying effort urging lawmakers to support a measure that would block stimulus funds from going to arts organizations that, like the Met, have locked out union employees.

Mr. Gelb said that the effort seemed “self destructive” and that “any attempt to damage the institution will only make it harder for the employees once we return.”

Tanya Thompson, a union carpenter who has worked at the Met for 15 years, had planned to return to work there in December. When Local One was locked out, she decided to continue in the new job she had taken over the summer to make ends meet: as an overnight home health aide for elderly patients.

Ms. Thompson, 52, said she plans to go back to the opera house as soon as there’s a deal.

“I’m a lifer,” she said. “We care about what we do and we want the Met to succeed.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/15/arts ... demic.html

maestrob
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Re: The Met Opera’s Musicians, Unpaid Since April, Are Struggling

Post by maestrob » Tue Mar 16, 2021 9:11 am

Mr. McCoy said he was repelled by the idea of returning to an adversarial relationship between the musicians and management.“I don’t want to go back to big concessions and to a toxic environment,” he said.
This is so sad to read.

The toxic atmosphere at the MET has been long established and well publicized. I stand with the musicians, always, with the full knowledge that if the union leaders had compromised last Fall when the MET made its offer of half-pay, their membership would be better off today.

Even before the shutdown, MET audiences were getting skimpy, especially during the week, and compromises were finally made. Now, the immediate situation is even more dire, and I feel the unions should recognize this and compromise. I said this when Gelb first made his offer of half-pay, and I still maintain that position. While I don't condone off-shoring the construction of stage sets, the MET can certainly retaliate by farming out more and more productions as time goes by, and even more jobs will be lost.

U. S. unions in the arts, especially known for their stubbornness in New York where they are incredibly powerful and aggressive, must begin to realize that they are no longer in the same position they were in during the last century, and begin to behave more like partners, or we'll all suffer.

More than a decade ago, my wife held a reception at a neighborhood restaurant for my birthday. The director of an opera company from upstate (a member of my Board at the time) was invited as well as a friend who was in a position of authority with Musicians' Local 802 and her husband, who was a member of the union, all close friends, plus about 18 others, including my now-deceased cousin from San Diego. Diegobueno was there, as I recall, with his wife.

At any rate, out of the blue, our union musician friend suddenly made it a point to re-seat himself next to our opera director guest and began berating her loudly about using union musicians in her productions. Way out of line, I thought. She answered him, of course, quite well, making it clear that the choice of musicians in her orchestra was up to her contractor, and the moment passed, but it shouldn't have happened, IMHO.

Unfortunately, this is typical of how things go here between unions and management still, and managements have found that they can get around such intense pressure from unions now in various ways that were not available before as the world has become flatter and less expensive. Certainly, I'm a union supporter, as we should be guaranteed a good living, but there are times when compromise is necessary in order to save jobs. This is one of them.

If the NY Philharmonic can reach a settlement, so should the MET unions be able to do so, even with the added complications there.

barney
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Re: The Met Opera’s Musicians, Unpaid Since April, Are Struggling

Post by barney » Tue Mar 16, 2021 11:12 pm

Indeed Brian. Amid such a catastrophe we sink or swim together.

lennygoran
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Re: The Met Opera’s Musicians, Unpaid Since April, Are Struggling

Post by lennygoran » Thu Mar 18, 2021 5:16 am

Met Musicians Accept Deal to Receive First Paycheck Since April

The Metropolitan Opera offered its orchestra temporary payments of up to $1,543 a week in exchange for simply coming to the bargaining table.



By Julia Jacobs

March 17, 2021

The musicians of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra have voted to accept a deal that will provide them with paychecks for the first time in nearly a year in exchange for returning to the bargaining table, where the company is seeking lasting pay cuts that it says are needed to survive the pandemic.

The musicians, and most of the Met’s workers, were furloughed in April, shortly after the pandemic forced the opera house to close. Months later, the Met offered the musicians partial pay in exchange for significant long-term cuts, but their union objected. Then the Met softened its position: Since the end of December, it has been offering to pay the musicians up to $1,543 a week on a temporary basis if they agreed to start negotiations. While the union representing the chorus agreed to the deal more than a month ago, the orchestra’s union took longer to accept the deal.

On Tuesday, the musicians in the orchestra, which became the last major ensemble in the United States without a deal to receive pandemic pay, agreed to take the offer, according to an email sent by the Met orchestra committee to its members.

“We’re very pleased that our agreement with the orchestra has been ratified and that they will begin receiving bridge pay this week,” the Met said in a statement, “along with the start of meaningful discussions towards reaching a new agreement.”

The orchestra committee, which represents the players in negotiations, declined to comment.

The Met’s relationship with its musicians has been contentious during the pandemic months. Musicians have been frustrated by the extended period without pay, and worried that even when they returned to the opera house, their pay would be significantly reduced.

The Met has insisted that economic sacrifices need to be made because of the financial impact of the pandemic, which it says has cost the company $150 million in earned revenues. For its highest-paid unions, the company is seeking 30 percent cuts — the change in take-home pay would be approximately 20 percent, it said — with a promise to restore half when ticket revenues and core donations return to prepandemic levels.

Under the deal, musicians will receive up to $1,543 for eight weeks; money they get from unemployment or stimulus payments is deducted from that total. If, after eight weeks, the musicians and the Met have not reached an agreement but the negotiations are productive, the partial paychecks will be extended, according to an email from the Met to the orchestra explaining the offer. The musicians’ labor contract expires at the end of July.

The Met offered the same deal to its choristers, dancers, stage managers and other employees who are represented by a different union, the American Guild of Musical Artists. That union accepted the deal at the end of January, and its members have been receiving paychecks for roughly five weeks.

The opera company is hopeful that it can start performing for the public in the fall, but opening night will be determined by where the virus and vaccination rates stand, as well as the outcome of the Met’s labor disputes. The company locked out its stagehands in December after their union rejected a proposal for substantial pay cuts.

In a note to Met employees sent on Friday, one year after the Met shut its doors, the company’s general manger, Peter Gelb, wrote that there was a “light at the end of the tunnel” because of the accelerated pace of vaccinations that President Biden had announced. Still, Mr. Gelb wrote, the Met needed to “come to terms with the economic necessities” that the pandemic has demanded.

“Even before the pandemic, the economics of the Met were extremely challenging and in need of a reset,” Mr. Gelb wrote. “With the pandemic, we have had to fight for our economic survival.”


https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/17/arts ... -deal.html

maestrob
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Re: The Met Opera’s Musicians, Unpaid Since April, Are Struggling

Post by maestrob » Thu Mar 18, 2021 9:32 am

Just what I've been hoping for since the offer was first made.

NOW the union accepts it after 40% of the MET's musicians have moved away? Not very smart on the union's part, making their membership wait so long, I would say. :mrgreen:

lennygoran
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Re: The Met Opera’s Musicians, Unpaid Since April, Are Struggling

Post by lennygoran » Fri Mar 19, 2021 7:50 am

maestrob wrote:
Thu Mar 18, 2021 9:32 am
Just what I've been hoping for since the offer was first made.

Brian today there's this:

Regards, Len


Met Opera’s Music Director Decries Musicians’ Unpaid Furlough

Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s letter to the company’s leaders urges them to “find a solution to compensate our artists appropriately.”



By Julia Jacobs

March 18, 2021

Urging the Metropolitan Opera to compensate its artists “appropriately,” the company’s music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, sent a letter to leaders at the Met on Thursday saying that the many months its orchestra and chorus had gone without pay during the pandemic had become “increasingly unacceptable.”

He sent the letter as the Met’s musicians were scheduled to receive their first partial paychecks since they were furloughed in April. Before this week, they had been the last major ensemble in the country without a deal for at least some pay during the pandemic. In addressing the players’ nearly yearlong furlough — and hinting at the tough negotiations ahead, in which the Met is seeking long-term pay cuts from its unionized employees — Nézet-Séguin was doing something rare for a music director: weighing in on labor matters.

“Of course, I understand this is a complex situation,” Nézet-Séguin wrote, “but as the public face of the Met on a musical level, I am finding it increasingly hard to justify what has happened.”
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The letter was obtained by The New York Times and confirmed by its recipients, which included Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager; the leaders of the negotiating committees representing the chorus and orchestra; and members of the opera’s board of directors.

“We risk losing talent permanently,” Nézet-Séguin warned in the letter. “The orchestra and chorus are our crown jewels, and they must be protected. Their talent is the Met. The artists of the Met are the institution.”

The orchestra committee has said that 10 out of 97 members have retired during the pandemic as the ensemble has gone unpaid, a stark increase from the two to three who retire in an average year.

“Protecting the long-term future of the Met is inextricably linked with retaining these musicians, and with respecting their livelihoods, their income and their well-being,” Nézet-Séguin wrote.

The Met said in a statement that “we share Yannick’s frustration over the lengthy closure and the impact it has had on our employees,” and added that the company was pleased that its orchestra and chorus and others were now receiving bridge pay. The Met said all involved were “working together for new agreements that will ensure the sustainability of the Met into the future.”

The Met, the nation’s largest performing arts organization, has said that since the pandemic forced it to shut its doors it has lost an estimated $150 million in earned revenue, and that it was seeking pay cuts from its workers, as many arts institutions have. The Met has been trying to cut the payroll costs for its highest-paid unions by 30 percent — the change in take-home pay would be more like 20 percent, it has said — and has offered to restore half the cuts when ticket revenue and core donations return to prepandemic levels.

Months into the furlough, the Met offered partial paychecks to its workers if they agreed to those cuts, but the unions resisted. At the end of the year, the Met offered partial paychecks on a temporary basis for simply returning to the bargaining table. Members of the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents chorus members, dancers and others, accepted at the end of January and have been receiving paychecks for more than a month. The orchestra musicians voted to accept the offer this week. (The Met has locked out its stagehands, whose contract expired last year.)

Nézet-Séguin wrote in his letter that he was relieved that both the musicians and the chorus members are now being paid, but added that “this is just a start.” The deal allows for temporary payments of up to $1,543 a week, less than half of what the musicians are typically paid.

Nézet-Séguin was named the Met’s music director in 2016, when he was tapped to succeed James Levine, who led the company for four decades (Mr. Levine, who stepped down to an emeritus position because of health problems and was then fired two years later after an investigation into sexual abuse allegations, died earlier this month.)

“I implore the fiduciaries of this incredible house to urgently help to find a solution to compensate our artists appropriately,” Nézet-Séguin wrote. “We all realize the challenges, economic and otherwise, that the Met is facing, and therefore I ask for empathy, honesty and open communication throughout this process.”


https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/18/arts ... eguin.html

maestrob
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Re: The Met Opera’s Musicians, Unpaid Since April, Are Struggling

Post by maestrob » Fri Mar 19, 2021 8:05 am

Good for Yannick!

I like him even more now.

MHO is that the musicians' union leaders have been unnecessarily stubborn throughout the pandemic, and they have hurt both their members and the MET's musical quality by so doing.

I thought Gelb's offer was fair when it was proposed and still do.

There has to be more of a feeling of partnership here, particularly until attendance gets back to normal levels.

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Re: The Met Opera’s Musicians, Unpaid Since April, Are Struggling

Post by Lance » Sun Mar 21, 2021 1:56 am

Agreed ... good for Yannick! Let us hope something really good can come out of this.
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