Recognize Us!

Met Opera Guild Teachers Strike - and File for Representation

Volume CIII, No. 9September, 2003

Teaching artists at the Metropolitan Opera Guild (MOG) went on strike for two weeks in late July and early August, demanding that their employer recognize Local 802 as their representative. The strike was followed by a petition for recognition at the National Labor Relations Board and an unfair labor practice charge against the employer.

As reported in June’s Allegro, MOG faculty presented management with an open petition for union representation, signed by every teaching artist. Management refused to recognize teachers as a union or negotiate with them at all.

The two-week strike affected teacher-training sessions in Mississippi, New Jersey and New York City.

One of the main jobs of MOG teachers is to train other teachers across the country in how to create original operas in their classrooms. For a week starting on July 22, MOG faculty picketed the teacher-training sessions in Princeton, New Jersey.

Teachers on the picket line passed out a letter written by Bruce Taylor, who developed MOG’s “Creating Original Opera” program more than 20 years ago.

“The organization which brought you to Princeton does not provide its practitioners with basic health insurance, pensions, or fair compensation,” Taylor wrote. “I know from my own personal experience that the current leadership of MOG does not care about its people, only what they produce.”

In an attempt to break the faculty strike at its seminars in Princeton and Mississippi, Guild management used administrators as replacement teachers (who one participant described as “exhausted” and “lackluster”). But they were unable to do so in New York and therefore were forced to cancel the series that would have occurred July 31 to August 6.

The Metropolitan Opera Guild is the fundraising organization of the Met Opera. Housed at Lincoln Center, it has yearly revenues of nearly $20 million. In pursuing its mission of encouraging opera appreciation, the Guild runs the most prestigious opera education program in the country, with a yearly budget of almost $2 million.

Members of the Guild’s faculty, some of whom have taught for the Guild for over 15 years, receive no health or pension benefits. Additionally, the Guild has avoided paying social security, unemployment, workers’ comp and disability for the teaching artists by misclassifying them as independent contractors.

“Lincoln Center is one of the wealthiest cultural institutions in the country, and the vast majority of its employees are unionized and have decent health and pension benefits,” said MOG 16-year teaching veteran Greg Pliska. “The teaching artists of the Metropolitan Opera Guild are seeking the same rights and respect that Lincoln Center’s other employees, and millions of teachers across the country, have had for many years.”

Local 802 has filed a petition for recognition with the NLRB. In addition, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Guild for illegally threatening a teaching artist with termination for union activity.

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