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Save the Met!

An epic tragedy is unfolding at the Metropolitan Opera, but the drama isn’t onstage. Caught in a vortex of uncontrolled management spending, the Met faces a financial crisis of operatic magnitude. 

As the realization of the economic meltdown at this great cultural treasure becomes increasingly evident, the Met’s leadership has begun pointing fingers, blaming the cost overruns of its untested new business model on the craftspeople, artists and technicians who make the Met productions sing.

This is specifically aimed at the Brothers and Sisters in Locals One (S), 751 (T&T), 764 (TWU), 794 (TBSE), 798 (MAHS), and USA 829 and nine other local unions, including AGMA, AFM 802, SEIU 32BJ, etc. All of these contracts expire July 31, 2014. 

Instead of seeking collaborative solutions, management is pointing the finger of “blame” at the Met’s backstage stars, many of whom have made the Opera their life’s work.

Much of the increased cost in the Met’s budget comes from an ever-expanding number of expensive newshows that the Opera is producing each year, many of which don’t generate large audiences.

Opera has changed more in the past dozen years than during the previous 300, and today, world-class stagecraft plays a more significant role than ever in producing quality performances.

As in all industries, technology has had a major impact on both the opera product and its cost, challenging the people behind the curtain to find creative ways to make it all work, despite increased production demands and expanded workloads.

The Met’s own transition over the past few years exemplifies these sweeping technological changes: translated dialogue scrolling digitally; HD cameras broadcasting productions; and satellites transmitting programming far and wide. Each of these new approaches requires changes in staging, set design, costuming and makeup to bring it all to life on far-off movie screens as well as on the New York stage.

Rather than value the innovations and creative solutions that these world-class artisans are prepared to offer in bargaining to help solve the self-imposed problems of the new production model, the man who makes over a million dollars a year running the Opera is pushing these gifted backstage artists to accept drastic changes to their compensation.

It’s a management melodrama unworthy of the Met’s great tradition of collaboration throughout the ranks. 

Everyone who performs backstage at the Met understands the financial realities facing the Opera and in the past has provided economic relief to the organization in a number of ways, including wage freezes.

These hard-working, dedicated people also understand the need to grow the audience. Indeed, the stars of backstage have helped facilitate the radical changes created by the Met’s untested new business model in order to keep this great tradition alive.

Moreover, decades of experience empowers them to understand better than anyone how the sweeping production changes initiated by the man-in-charge are radically altering the scope and cost of operations, effectively putting the Met on the proverbial road to a hellish financial crisis, albeit with good intentions.

So, as collective bargaining begins, scapegoating the hard-working men and women that have dedicated their lives to this art form won’t fix the Metropolitan Opera’s problems.

Unless something is done soon to rein in management’s wildly costly new vision, the final curtain may fall at the Met, through no fault of those who’ve kept it thriving for generations.

Photo: From left to right, Dan Galloon (Local One), Pat Landers (Local USA 829), Tefere Gebre (Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO), and Angela Johnson (Local 798). Vice President Gebre met with union organizers from a variety of unions and representatives from the New York City Central Labor Council on May 12, 2014 for a multi-union conversation about organizing in NYC. After the meeting, the group posed for this photo, sporting their “Save the Met” buttons. Vice President Gebre pledged the full support of the AFL-CIO in the campaign at the opera.

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Save the Met Opera