Cher Public

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War talk

Although La Cieca (center) has never played Fort Sumter, she thinks she can recognize the sound of a shot being fired. A forwarded email, after the jump.

Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2011 12:43:01 -0400 (EDT)

1430 Broadway
New York City 10018
Dear Members:

Yesterday, George Steel announced that you would be performing for NYCO in its next season, assuming that NYCO continues to exist. The AGMA Constitution, which AGMA will aggressively enforce in court, prohibits you from performing for City Opera in the event of a Guild picket line is in effect.

As you may be aware, the collective bargaining agreement between AGMA and New York City Opera expired in April. George Steel has, for all intents and purposes, proposed to eliminate all guaranteed employment for AGMA members, to cancel their health insurance, to eliminate the requirement for AGMA membership, to hire student and volunteer singers and to unilaterally extend the work day of principal artists, without any limitation. Although we are finally about to become engaged in negotiations for a successor agreement, given the proposals made by George Steel, it is unlikely in the extreme that a successor agreement will be successfully concluded quickly.

In any event, under federal labor law, the provisions of that expired contract must continue to be honored by NYCO until a successor agreement or an impasse is reached. One of the continuing provisions requires that AGMA receive a copy of, and consent to, any individual employment pursuant to a Standard Artists Agreement. We have not received a copy of any agreement purporting to cover your employment. Without regard to City Opera’s failure to tender a copy of that letter, AGMA is not prepared to approve any such contracts unless a current collective bargaining is in effect between AGMA and City Opera at the time of the performance.

If AGMA and City Opera fail to successfully conclude a collective bargaining agreement prior to the start of your contracted employment, AGMA will not sanction your performance of any services for City Opera.

Moreover, in the event that an impasse occurs in the negotiations, and an AGMA picket line exists at any venue in which City Opera is performing, the AGMA Constitution prohibits you from crossing that picket line.

While I am sure that you and your agent may find this advice distressing, I can not fail to remind you that our obligation is to preserve, to the extent possible, the protections of the collective bargaining agreement for the men and women who have given their careers to City Opera and who would, if George Steel succeeds in presenting non-union productions, be cast out on the street, unable to provide for their support and the welfare of their families.

We are certain that we can count on your support. Inasmuch as AGMA is obligated to do everything possible, in the event of a strike, to prevent George Steel from effectuating his destruction of City Opera, I also need to advise you that AGMA will impose fines on any member who crosses an AGMA picket line and will sue to collect those fines in the appropriate federal or state court.

We sincerely hope that these actions will not become necessary.


Alan S. Gordon


  • dame ernestine sherman tank says:

    How happy Dame Tank is to be retired! I just would not have the energy for this fight. I was too busy worrying about learning my notes, blocking, and keeping my voice in shape. The Art of Singing is getting lost in here…

  • Cranky Coloratura says:

    Penny wise and pound foolish was never more true.

    Steel looks at our union employees and sees only $$$ and aging faces that would screw up not only his wish to be the darling of the young, hip and now crowd but to downsize the company to match his puny vision.

    I see a finely tuned ensemble with a huge reservoir of skill, experience, artistry, history and loyalty, a troupe capable of rising to any challenge, a treasure that any artistic director in his right mind would kill for.

    We must not rest in the fight to depose this preening booby.

    Hail, Freedonia!

  • agma says:

    Sam Cooke sang “Don’t Know Much About History” and it’s regretably clear that many current members don’t recognize the truth of what ardath_bey says about labor’s history. Worse, many do not recognize their own part of a continuing labor movement in which going on strike to secure even the most basic benefits (certainly not those that we take much more for granted today)once imperiled the lives of those strikers and their families. To those who ask ‘what has the union done for me today?’ I am compelled to remind them that unionists are fond of repeating the traditional saying “people died to achieve the eight hour day,” and hundreds if not thousands of unionized workers did actually make an ultimate sacrifice to win that battle, and our members today fall heir to those sacrifices.

    In 1936, the year that marked AGMA’s birth, two strikers were killed and over 200 wounded by National Guardsmen in the Electric Auto-Lite Strike in Toledo, Ohio. In Minneapolis, police attacked and fired upon striking Teamster truck drivers who were demanding recognition of their union, wage increases, and shorter working hours. Almost simultaneously, police killed 10 strikers and wounded 30 during the “Memorial Day Massacre” at the Republic Steel plant in Chicago, and Ford Motor Company guards attacked and tried to kill the United Auto Workers’ leadership at Ford’s River Rouge Plant, in River Rouge, Michigan, immortalized in photographs of Walter Reuther bloodied at the plant gate.
    AGMA’s founders may have created the union on a golf course, but it was certainly not a safe and genteel thing to undertake. Although it’s true that no AGMA member had to die to secure advance schedule-posting, paid rehearsals or heavy-carry fees, our members cannot forget that they are beneficiaries of the legacy of those who did make an ultimate sacrifice in order to secure the ability to peacefully negotiate the contracts and benefits our members enjoy today.
    Part of our job is to protect soloists, enforce their pay-or-play contracts, litigate against age, race, sex, sexual orientation discrimination, prevent predatory agent practices, set minimums and make sure they get paid. AGMA is unique among entertainment unions: We don’t have closed shops, we don’t prohibit non-union work, we don’t have nation-wide votes on contracts that dilute the interests of any given bargaining unit and, most significantly in this regard, we don’t organize. We don’t have to -- any singer who has worked under both an AGMA contract and for a non-union employer knows what AGMA does for its members.
    Obviously, we don’t want to have a picket line at all of George Steel’s local venues or anywhere else…but if that’s the only way to try to save the jobs of both the rank-and-file members and the solo singers, than that’s the only way.
    Alan Gordon
    Executive Director

    • brooklynpunk says:

      THAT IS THE height of cynical spin… to throw in the glorious, and tragic HISTORIC Union battles of the past, to make your case, in the HERE AND NOW…

      AND.. I am a Union-man…100% ( well… most of the time…)


      • Porpora says:

        History is not spin Mr. BrooklynPunk. And those who do not learn from it are -- as the saying goes- doomed to repeat it.

        • brooklynpunk says:

          Well, Porpora..

          The “selective” use of “quoting” historical episodes to make a point, which has a very hazy connection to currentl events ..for one’s self aggrandizing IN MY OPINION-- A REAL DISGRACE..OR WORSE… and a slur on the history “evoked”…

          • Porpora says:

            What else should Mr. Gordon have included in his brief overview of the beginning of labor’s history in America? Hazy connection? Is there a hazy connection between gay marriage in New York and Lawrence vs Texas? You bet there is! History matters!

            Mr. Gordon was responding to a soloist’s question which was- essentially- ‘why isn’t AGMA doing more for me?’ His response is not self-serving. It is informative as well as instructive. The reader is given the nut and bolts of what the union actually will do for its members.

            It is possible that AGMA members will be picketing performances of NYCO. To know that others have done the same, and with far greater risk, isn’t a disgrace any more than learning the art of bel canto shames those who endeavor to be as great as those who have inspired them.

          • Porpora says:

            Ah…the late hour…

            My post should have read: “Is there a hazy connection between gay marriage in New York and Lawrence vs Texas? I think not! History matters!”

      • Bosah says:

        I don’t understand, brooklynpunk. The question was regarding what AGMA does for soloists, right?

        Well, what they did in the past was ensure all those rights listed. What they do today is make sure that, through actions like Steele’s, those rights aren’t taken away.

        It’s simple in my mind. If you let things like what Steele is doing prevail, they snowball, and the rights won through blood, sweat and tears years ago will be lost.

        Maybe members have a right to complain about day-to-day things -- I don’t know, I’m not a member. But, the big picture is really, really clear.

        Your last line was as misplaced as it was melodramatic, IMO.

        • brooklynpunk says:


          MY line was ” melodramatic and misplaced” ..and Alan Gordon’s recounting that Union protestors were murdered by the Police, in Detroit-- over 70 years ago- in a far different sort of dispute..WASN’T..?

          Of course I believe in Unionism…and that the history of the Unions is real important..especially for a current generation that might not have a clue as to what came before their own relatively comfortable lives..

          What I object to is the heavy-handed grand-standing aspects of Gordon’s spiel…it sort of turns my stomach, to hear that the opening negotiations in contract talks between labor and managment at City Opera somehow harkens back to the murders at River Rouge..

          • Bosah says:

            I understand that, bp… but I’m going to imagine that to the person who runs the union, what he does in these negotiations is a testimony to what those protestors went through. I bet to him, his work is always related in some way.

            I’m just remembering some union “management” friends, and everything to them was about the battles that came before and honoring them.

            I mean, if people died to give the members of this union rights, why wouldn’t he use everything he has to save those rights? He’s fighting for the rights those very people died for, isn’t he? I bet that’s what he thinks. And I’m not sure he’s far off.

            Thst’s what I think any way.

          • Bosah says:

            BP -

            One final thing -- Gordon talks about the historical significance of the fight for having your union recognized, fair wages and controlled working hours. Aren’t those things at the core of the issue with Steele now?

            Sure, going on about it may seem melodramatic, especially for a union like AGMA(and I would temper the language). But when you think about it, that IS what this is about -- a management trying to take away the rights some people died for a long time ago.

          • Porpora says:

            Yes brooklynpunk, you ARE melodramatic. Over the top too. The only thing missing is the mattress at the bottom of a parapet. But this isn’t Tosca. And it is the unions that are dying here. Two of them in fact. They’ve been shoved over the rail by Steel & Co.

            Please stop drinking the Kool-aid.

            What you don’t seem to understand is that Mr. Steel is intent on dismembering the company person by person. He has made that very clear through his actions and proposals.

            Anyone can go to the press as Mr. Steel has and try to make bamboozle them into thinking he isn’t doing what he is doing. His policies have brought NYCO to its knees. He means to get rid of everyone and reshape the company is his own image. I believe this was his intent from day one. And I am not alone in thinking this. The unions have given him a unanimous NO CONFIDENCE vote. What should they do now? Send flowers?

      • Bluessweet says:

        What I said…times 10

        • Bluessweet says:

          And what I said was that BP’s stance is so skewed about this that it sounds as if he were a paid hack for Steel.

          For instance, complaining about dredging up 1930′s labor actions while he, himself, dredges up a quote from the McCarthy era (Army-McCarthy hearings) of the 1950′s. Talk about “no shame.”

          PS— and he doesn’t even get it right… What McCarthy’s adversary, Joseph Welch, actually said was, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
          The inclusion of the word “left” makes the “at long last” sensible. Otherwise, it is actually somewhat incoherent and I’m glad to present it in the whole, for two reasons:

          First, because it is such a famous quote that it should truly have full meaning and second, because Mr. Welch was and deserves to be remembered as a truly articulate individual.

          • Bluessweet says:

            Just in case you were wondering about the quote’s construction, here’s a comment by someone who is much better at English grammer than I:

            Note for syntacticians: Welch’s syntax is rather old-fashioned for American English (though not so much for British speech): his famous outburst has two features that are rare in American speech and one that is rare in every dialect. (In what follows I put “[%]” in front of a sentence if only some Standard English speakers would accept it.) First, the sentence illustrates subject-auxiliary inversion with the possession sense of have, which Americans don’t use much any more (they tend to say Do you have a pencil? rather than [%]Have you a pencil?). Second, his utterance also uses non-verbal negation, which is less common (and more formal) than verbal negation (Americans say I don’t have a pencil rather than [%]I have no pencil). And third, the second sentence, Have you left no sense of decency?, shows a rather unusual adjunct placement for left (Americans would say Don’t you have any pencils left rather than [%]Don’t you have left any pencils?). At long last sounds a bit odd, too; Welch means it in the sense “Hasn’t this gone on long enough?”, which is not quite the same as the modern sense “finally” (as in At long last Iraq has an Iraqi-led government), though of course they are close. Fifty years is not a long time in language change, but already English is sounding a little different from when Welch spoke

            From “Language Log” This comment was posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum there (and not by Bluessweet!)

            And, as Mr. Welch implied, Hasn’t this gone on long enough?

          • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

            Tom Rakewell: “Have you taken leave of your senses?”

          • brooklynpunk says:

            …since I didn’t use quotation marks-- I was delibrately NOT directly quoting Mr. Welch’s famous line toward McCarthy

            .. my concern was not that the Union has no sense of decency..I know that in theory, they have an extremely high moral sense, of duty, as a matter of fact…..

  • SilvestriWoman says:

    I’d beg to differ. When I was struggling singer, working part-time with no health insurance while taking regional opera gigs, AGMA’s contributions to the health fund paid my medical bills. It may not have been health insurance, but it allowed me to afford annual doctor visits, especially when I fractured my foot.