In the early morning hours of May 2, after a marathon 15½-hour negotiating session interrupted only by a performance of Das Rheingold, negotiators for Local 802 and the Metropolitan Opera Association reached tentative agreement on a new five-year contract. The agreement, which is for the period from Aug. 1, 2001, through July 31, 2006, is the latest in a series of early contracts at the Met, a practice dating back to 1983.
The terms and conditions were subsequently ratified by the orchestra 72-22.
Highlights of the agreement include wage increases of 4 percent per year for five years, subject to additional increases of up to 2 percent in the fourth and fifth years should the cost of living exceed 4 percent. Rehearsal wages, an important component of Met orchestra earnings, were increased by $4 per hour per year, bringing the hourly rehearsal rate at the end of the contract to $70, an increase of 40 percent.
Supplemental Unemployment Benefits (SUB) will be discontinued with this contract, thereby making this a full 52-week-a-year orchestra for pay purposes. This alone was calculated by the union negotiating team to be the equivalent of an additional 2 percent annual increase in pay.
Work relief, a primary focus of the negotiating team, was accomplished by an increase in personal performances off – from the present three to five, with one additional (for a total of six) for all string players – along with a guarantee of at least 20 Mondays off for all orchestra members, a decrease in the work requirements for pre-season rehearsals, and a shortening of the length of certain rehearsals. In addition, all string players will be guaranteed one full run of an opera off during each season, if requested.
Increased vacation time was addressed by the parties’ agreement on a tentative schedule which included up to 13 weeks off in at least three of the contract’s five years.
Other items included terms and conditions for two tentatively scheduled tours, new no-strike, sick leave and termination language, and a codification in the contract of the current audition procedures. Revised health coverage, which includes a PPO provision, was also put in place and will be implemented during the final year of the current contract, beginning on Aug. 1, 2000. The parties have agreed to reopen discussion on the pension in the third year of the contract, with a study of the issue to begin immediately.
ASSESSING THE OUTCOME
“We made progress on a greater range of working conditions than we ever have in the past,” said Committee Chair Sandy Balint, pointing out that “work-related issues are always the toughest ones to win.” He said the increased vacation days and more Mondays off “all combine to reduce our work load, which was a major issue. And we have been trying to get rid of the Supplemental Unemployment Benefits for the last 25 years – so winning that was a major achievement.”
Committee member John Ferrillo pointed out that this negotiation had “restructured the opera season by putting a ‘dark week’ in the middle of the season. In combination with added personal days and a continuation of the floating week we’ve had, it is going to change the complexion of the schedule quite a bit.”
Another important advance, he said, are the improvements in rehearsal pay, which will have the greatest impact on musicians who are carrying the heaviest work loads. He pointed out that, over the years, there have been dramatic increases at the Met in the amount of rehearsal time, which is compensated at the lowest rate of pay.
One issue that has still to be resolved is the updating of the pension base year. The parties agreed to disagree after it became clear at the eleventh hour that it could not be wrapped up without jeopardizing every other area where agreement had been reached. They will begin a study of the issue in the fall.
The negotiating committee included Michelle Baker, Sandor Balint (chair), Peter Bond, Ferrillo (who did the statistical analysis for the negotiations), Jerry Grossman, Hal Janks, Caroline Levine, Karen Marx and Duncan Patton. They were assisted by legal counsel Susan Martin, who acted as chief spokesperson, and Local 802 President Bill Moriarity.