Opera Company Refuses to Settle

Union Ready for Showdown at Labor Board

Volume CIV, No. 12December, 2004

Mikael Elsila

A conference that could have settled the differences between Local 802 and the Opera Company of Brooklyn ended in a stalemate on Sept. 28 when representatives from the employer showed up and claimed they were not empowered to negotiate.

The New York State Employment Relations Board will now schedule a formal hearing, which will likely take place at the beginning of December.

On Sept. 7, the New York State Employment Relations Board had issued a complaint against the Opera Company of Brooklyn alleging that it has “since April 13, 2004, failed and refused to negotiate in good faith with Local 802 for the purpose of collective bargaining.”

The complaint was the result of the opera company’s reneging on the landmark agreement it had signed with Local 802.

On Feb. 6, the OCB had agreed to ban all use of virtual orchestra machines, including the Sinfonia machine. The company had also officially recognized 802 as the musicians’ representative and set March 1 as the deadline to begin talks for a first contract. This was the first agreement in the world that banned the virtual orchestra machine.

But on April 13, OCB management sent a letter to 802 President David Lennon, asserting that the agreement was “null and void and of no legal or equitable effect.”

The dispute over OCB’s use of the machine began in 2003 when Local 802 members launched an e-mail and letter writing campaign to OCB board members voicing their objections to the company’s use of the machine. As a result, the two most renowned board members, Marilyn Horne and Deborah Voight, resigned.

Then, during its February 2004 performances of “The Marriage of Figaro,” 802 protested the use of the machine at opening night.

Union counsel anticipates that the charges in the complaint will be upheld and OCB will be ordered to comply with the terms of the agreement.

Realtime Music Solutions, which makes the Sinfonia machine, has not had an easy time. Last winter, Realtime had filed a charge against Local 802 and OCB for agreeing to ban the machine, saying that such a ban was preventing it from doing business. But the regional and federal labor boards both disagreed and sided with 802, saying that the ban was a “lawful work preservation objective.”