I am writing this on Aug. 18, the afternoon after Local 802 and the Metropolitan Opera finally came to an accord at 5:45 a.m. These negotiations have been a long, arduous, and sometimes torturous journey. The outstanding issue was the Met management’s insistence on a major reduction in wages through salary cuts and work rule changes. The committee, recognizing that the Met was having problems through declining ticket sales, approached these talks through data-driven analysis. Looking at how much the Met had spent on new productions, overtime and elaborate sets, and combining that with falling box office receipts, we discovered that the Met increased its budget by over $100 million over the last six or seven years, relying heavily on its donor base and less on earned income from ticket sales. We even looked through newspapers and analyzed how critics reviewed the Met’s productions. We learned that General Manager Peter Gelb’s new productions were critical failures when revived.
So why come to the performers and craftspeople who make opera happen and ask them to lower their income in order for Peter Gelb to be able to sustain his extravagant practices? When it became clear that this was the central question, the committee really went to work. Over the course of several weeks, the Met musicians’ committee was able to find the Met millions of dollars in savings through less overtime, more efficient rehearsal scheduling, and a reduction in the number of costly new productions by only two. It was really impressive work. But Peter said no. He claimed that the orchestra was trying to dictate how the Met should be run by controlling spending and limiting his artistic vision. That really wasn’t what we were trying to do – but after he brought it up, it didn’t sound like such a bad idea.
At this point, with the expiration of the contract looming, Local 802 joined forces with the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union that represents the soloists, choristers, dancers and stage management. Sitting at the table together was an important display of solidarity. AGMA, Local 802 and IATSE Local 1 – the “big three” as we were described in the press – were in constant contact.
After AGMA proposed a less adversarial approach to the negotiations, Met management suggested that we call upon the services of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services. Deputy Director Allison Beck and Commissioner Kathleen Murray Cannon were brought in to help us find a way to a deal. On Director Beck’s recommendation, it was agreed to have an independent analyst look at the books of the Met and assess the situation. Local 802 had been asking for months for critical financial data that the Met refused to share. Now came the opportunity for a transparent accounting of the Met. Eugene Keilin, co-founder of KPS Capital, was jointly retained by Local 802, AGMA and the Met.
Not surprisingly, after only a part of the analysis was done, we realized that we indeed had a problem at the Met. Cost reductions across the board were necessary to save our beloved opera house. We were going to have to agree to a concessionary contract or General Manager Peter Gelb was going to lock out all the unionized employees in the house. Fully aware of the devastating effect that a lockout would have on the future of the company, the musicians were faced with a very difficult decision.
If we were to agree to invest in the Met by taking a reduction in pay, it would have to come with a price to Met management. The problems the Met faced were not the fault of the people who make opera happen; it was the fault of management. We bargained hard for 48 hours, going back and forth, to gain more financial transparency from the Met along with future recovery of wages and an equality of sacrifice by the Met. It wasn’t easy, and the committee and I were physically and emotionally drained – but we continued to work.
What we were able to accomplish was unprecedented. There will be, on retainer, an independent financial analyst, who will report directly to the unions and the Met, to notify either party of financial issues and to monitor spending. For every penny the unions have conceded, an equal reduction has to be made by management. In other words, whatever the total cost savings the Met realizes through wage reductions from the performers, Met management must suffer the same reductions. Importantly, there will be no changes to the work rules that we have bargained so hard for over the decades.
This isn’t a success story by any means. It is a chronicle of the struggle we musicians face more and more in the not-for-profit arts arena. Everyone wants to blame the economy, when the real problems are caused by the poor choices that those running these organizations make. With this settlement, we avoided a lockout of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. We made an investment in the excellence this crown jewel of culture represents – and it came with a big price to those musicians who make the finest opera house in the world what it is.
I need to thank the tireless efforts of the Met Orchestra Committee and all those musicians and staff who worked behind the scenes to support us on this journey. Special thanks to orchestra committee members Jessica Phillips Rieske (chair), Duncan Patton (vice chair), Katherine Fong (secretary), Dan Shelly (treasurer), Dan Krekeler, Shirien Taylor-Donahue, Joel Noyes, Weston Sprott and David Langlitz.
COMINGS AND GOINGS
Maya Kremen, most recently a senior advisor and Brooklyn director for Congressman Jerrold Nadler, has joined Local 802 as its political and communications director. At Congressman Nadler’s office, Maya worked with elected officials at the federal, state and city levels on a wide range of policy and district issues. Before that, she was a staff journalist covering politics, education and religion at the Bergen Record, and also wrote about arts and culture for numerous publications, including the New York Times, the Village Voice, Crain’s NY Business and Entertainment Weekly. She earned her B.A. from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Maya can be reached at (212) 245-4802, ext. 176 or MLkremen@Local802afm.org.
At the same time, we say goodbye to our organizing director Adam Witkowski, who left Local 802 this summer to go on the road as a musician. We wish him the best of luck. Local 802 is currently looking for a new organizing director; the search is being headed by Recording Vice President John O’Connor.
Finally, it is with deep sadness that I report the death of Frances McDonald, who worked at Local 802 for over 30 years. She died on July 4 at the age of 66. Her early years were spent in the secretary’s office before she moved to the department of the Music Performance Trust Fund. In 1991, Fran became the executive secretary to then Vice President Florence Nelson. In this role, her work in the Concert Department became well known to many members. In 2003, Fran became the union’s personnel manager, and a year later she was appointed assistant to the financial vice president, which allowed the Concert Department to utilize her invaluable experience. We send condolences to Fran’s mother, who lives in New York City, as well as to all of Fran’s friends and family.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
As usual, we have a lot of interesting content in this issue of Allegro, including a powerful tribute to the late violin virtuoso David Nadien, a special feature on Piano in the Park (which Local 802 co-sponsors), and an interview with clarinetist and Local 802 member Spencer Bruno, who took over the Lester Lanin Orchestra after Lanin’s death in 2004. We’re also pleased to print some touching and heartfelt stories about our members’ special memories of their favorite music teachers, which you must read.
- We have negotiated an agreement with Broadway Worldwide, Inc. for rates and scales for musicians when the company captures full performances of Broadway productions in various media. The contract includes a basic side musician scale wage of over $5,000. This includes payments for domestic and foreign broadcasts as well as radio simulcasts, with provisions for additional payments for reuse in various media, supplemental markets distribution and royalty payments for pay-per-view. The employer will pay 70 percent of the initial wages within 15 days of media capture; the balance of 30 percent will be paid in installments over 18 months, with measures included to guarantee these payments.
- We have achieved an agreement with the New York Philharmonic covering subs and extras. The agreement maintains parity with the regular orchestra for wages and working conditions.
- We renewed our agreement with Inside Broadway, the organization that does so much to promote live musical theatre to the next generation of musicians and audiences. Inside Broadway produces a series called Creating the Magic as well as Summerstock Jr., which takes place at Local 802.
- Local 802 has reached an agreement with City Center for its “Lobby Project.” This is a series of pre-performance events featuring live music.
CONGRATS TO ANNE WALKER WINNERS
Congratulations to this year’s winners of the Anne Walker Scholarship. The scholarship, now in its 16th year, honors a fiery advocate for musicians whose more than 30 years of work at 802 were cut short by a tragic automobile accident in 1996. At the time, Anne Walker was administrative assistant to the president, supervisor of the Music Prep Department and administrator of the Local 802 Sick Pay Fund. To apply for a scholarship, a student must be a Local 802 member in good standing or the child of a member in good standing. The prizes this year ranged from $500 to $1,500. The winners are Joshua Arbo, Cole Davis, Paul Finckel, Daryl Johns, Caroline Kuhn, Hannah Levine, Scott Miceli, Matthew O’Donnell and Wesley Ostrander. The next application period will be in March 2015; we print the application form in Allegro and we also post it on our Facebook page and electronic newsletter.