Chalk up another victory for teachers. Despite efforts to thwart them, teaching artists at the Metropolitan Opera Guild have won the right to organize.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled on Sept. 22 that Guild teaching artists were employees – not independent contractors, as the employer claimed – and that they constitute an appropriate bargaining unit.
This decision means that the 40 artists will be able to vote on union representation in an NLRB election.
“To have a union at the Guild means to me that the work of the teaching artists is being respected and recognized,” teaching artist Lynn Marlowe told Allegro. “I am proud to be a part of a group of people who have won a small battle for the arts and its artists.”
“I think that unions are the absolute best way for artists to be supported and respected,” said teaching artist Stephan Golux. “I’m a member of a number of different unions and they have been instrumental to me to get benefits that make my job more rewarding and the results of the work better.”
The Guild hires teaching artists to bring its Creating Original Opera program and related opera appreciation programs to children in schools. Teaching artists also train schoolteachers nationwide in the Creating Original Opera process so that they can bring the program into their own schools.
Additionally, the Guild is a fundraising entity for the Metropolitan Opera.
“This means that it will be a better opportunity for artists to work there…artists will have more to say in the conditions.”
–Stephen Weinstock, teaching artist.
“A union at the Guild will hopefully mean an improvement of the conditions under which we work: better salary, real benefits like health and pension and a greater sense of empowerment for the teaching artists,” said teaching artist Danny Ashkenasi.
Last April, artists presented to management a unanimous public petition seeking representation with 802. When the Guild refused to recognize their union, teaching artists went on strike for two weeks at the end of July and the beginning of August before taking their case to the labor board.
“I was striking in Princeton. It was a very intense, exhausting and important experience,” said teaching artist Margie Duffield.
To block the teaching artists’ right to unionize, the Guild argued that artists lacked a “community of interest” because of their varying hours and rates of pay, and tried to exclude one teaching artist based on his full-time status.
Since the artists bring the programs into public schools, the Guild also asserted that the New York City Board of Education was a joint employer of the teaching artists.
The Guild’s arguments were virtually identical to those used by other employers, most recently the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center, in an attempt to prevent teaching artists from organizing with 802.
As in the Kaufman Center case, the NLRB ruled against the Guild’s arguments, and found that the teaching artists have the right to union representation.
“It is my hope that we will finally be able to keep our talented colleagues working to strengthen the Guild artists’ faculty, instead of losing them to other organizations,” said teaching artist Peter Hoyle.
“For me, having a union at the Guild means that I can continue working for them,” said teaching artist Judith Lane. “The compensation is way below the industry average.”
The Metropolitan Opera Guild teaching artists are the seventh group of teachers who have won the right to unionize with 802. The NLRB has scheduled a mail ballot and plans to tally the votes on Nov. 3.
“The possibility of health coverage will make us breathe easier,” said teaching artist Lisa Dove. “And this is the first real step of being recognized and valued for the work we do for both the kids in public schools and the Met Guild. We especially value the stronger relationships with fellow teaching artists, which came directly from the unionizing effort.”
The Organizing Department was assisted by 802 attorney Harvey Mars in this case.
For the history of the union campaign at the Met Opera Guild and the latest updates, see www.mogteachers.org and www.local802afm.org.
AN OPEN PETITION TO THE METROPOLITAN OPERA GUILD
April 9, 2003
We are your teaching artists.
We have great respect for the mission of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, and we’re proud of the positive impact our work has had on students and teachers all over the country.
We believe it is time to join as partners in this worthwhile endeavor. It is our conviction that our collective experience and expertise is an invaluable resource, and that the growth and development of MOG’s programs will be greatly improved by our input. We are willing to undertake this responsibility because we are dedicated to MOG’s goals.
We seek partnership in the form of a union. We are certain that forming a union will lead to improved conditions for everyone – ourselves, our students, and the Metropolitan Opera Guild.
Therefore, we have sought the assistance of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802 AFM, whom we hereby authorize and designate to represent us for the purposes of collective bargaining over the terms and conditions of our employment with the Metropolitan Opera Guild.
We anticipate that the Metropolitan Opera Guild, acting with the interests of the organization and its committed teaching artists in mind, will recognize our union and begin to work together with us to negotiate a fair agreement.
This letter was signed by all active teaching artists at the Guild and presented to management by the teaching artists themselves.