Cher Public

Sledgehammer

Alan Gordon replies to a letter from Peter Gelb we haven’t seen yet. La Cieca has to wonder if the Wendy White thing is really going to turn out to be an effective negotiating tactic.

From: AGMANY@aol.com
Subject: To Principal Singers Appearing/Scheduled to Apper at the Met
Date: May 21, 2014 at 2:04:16 PM EDT
To: agmany@aol.com

To Principal Singers Appearing/Scheduled to Apper at the Met:

As you know, we are involved (along with the orchestra and stagehand’s unions and their members) in very high stakes negotiations with the Met, continuing in our efforts to preserve the way of life for all of its employees despite the on-going attack by Peter Gelb, and to avoid the lock-out threatened by Gelb of all employees on and after the July 31st contract expirations.

Purely as a self-serving negotiating tactic, Peter has written a letter (drafted by his team of $1000-an-hour lawyers and his many public relations consultants) to all unionized employees in an attempt to bolster the Met’s negotiating position. His letter is not only inappropriate and constitutes illegal direct-dealing but, regrettably, continues to fraudulently misstate the effect of the Met’s proposals on its employees. In actuality, for staff employees, the proposals would result in reductions in take-home pay of between 25-30%, in addition to a 40% reduction in pensions, and a $15,000 per family increase in medical insurance expenses. His proposals to Local 802, Local 1, the Orchestra and the Stagehands are substantially similar and similarly destructive. His proposals to principal artists would, likewise, reduce rehearsal compensation, increase uncompensated rehearsal obligations, eliminate any benefits and impact singers’ ability to provide for their families.

As you also know, principal artists have absolutely no protection against career-ending injuries when they perform at the Met, even if it’s caused by the Met’s negligence. To remedy that, we’ve made extensive proposals (along with those of IATSE Local 1’s stagehands) as part of these negotiations, to make certain that all possible contractual provisions are in place to prevent such negligence in the future and, should it nonetheless occur, to make certain that your career income is protected. The Met, thus far, has refused to even respond to our safety proposals.

Given Peter’s family’s personal loss yesterday we need to postpone responding to his letter directly until a more appropriate time. Obviously, none of you should consider his letter an invitation for you to respond to him. Any principal singer with an upcoming contract for work at the Met who does respond should expect another letter from Gelb, requesting that you reduce your fees by 10, 15, or 20% . You should not even consider such a request. The Met may well have fiscal problems, but those problems can’t be solved by a sledgehammer attack on its performing artists.

Reducing your fee, reducing all the principal artists’ fees, would not make one iota of difference to the Met’s bottom line. The AGMA negotiating committee made it clear to Peter that the only way in which the union and its members would consider helping him stabilize the Met’s finances were 1) If he accepted some measure of oversight by the performers to control his astronomically increased spending and over drawing of the endowment and 2) If he agreed to reverse the waste, excess and extravagance that have thus far been the hallmark of his administration.

The Met is a public trust, and Peter Gelb has a corresponding fiduciary obligation to care for it. His $100 million dollar increased budget, a box office in free fall and his continuing attacks on your livelihoods and families are symptomatic of his failure to fulfill that obligation.

We are, of course, doing everything we can, along with the other unions to advance reasonable proposals, to preserve your income, working conditions, benefits and way of life, and to vastly improve safety at the Met so as to prevent any further career-ending Wendy White-type injuries and to resist Gelb’s senseless threat to lock-out all unionized Met employees after the July 31st contract expiration date if he can’t bully employees or con them into accepting his abhorrent proposals.

Alan Gordon
Executive Director
AGMA, AFL-CIO

  • Feral Colin

    ‘Given Peter’s family’s personal loss yesterday we need to postpone responding to his letter directly until a more appropriate time.’
    But Gordon just goes ahead and writes to his members calling Gelb a liar and disparaging him as much as he can possibly do right now. What an ass.
    This can only end in tears.

  • opus

    What an embarrassment to AGMA. As an AGMA member myself, I am ashamed of Alan’s unprofessional tactics.

    “his team of $1000-an-hour lawyers”

    How does Alan know what Peter is paying his lawyers? This is absurd.

    “His proposals to principal artists would, likewise, reduce rehearsal compensation, increase uncompensated rehearsal obligations, eliminate any benefits and impact singers’ ability to provide for their families”

    Gelb’s job is not to provide for singers’ families. As hard as it is to swallow, Gelb is tasked to run a business. Pure and simple. If he cannot do that, then there will be no MET and the singers will have to find work elsewhere. In trying to find a sustainable business model, he is indirectly providing for these singers’ families, but it’s not his objective, nor should it be.

    “we need to postpone responding to his letter directly until a more appropriate time”

    Instead, I’ll write an emotionally-charged and unprofessional letter that will clearly be leaked back to him. Yes, that seems much more appropriate.

    “Reducing your fee, reducing all the principal artists’ fees, would not make one iota of difference to the Met’s bottom line”

    Because, you know, $300MM minus $42MM = $300MM. It’s just arithmetic guys. Sheesh.

    “The Met is a public trust, and Peter Gelb has a corresponding fiduciary obligation to care for it. His $100 million dollar increased budget, a box office in free fall and his continuing attacks on your livelihoods and families are symptomatic of his failure to fulfill that obligation.”

    The $100 million dollar increase has nothing to do with the $61 million dollar increase in union expenses since he took over. No, those are IMAGINARY and shouldn’t be looked at closely. Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • Salome Where She Danced

    I am suffering from a “Wendy White-type injury.”

    Can this phrase please NOT enter the lexicon?

    And, as I’ve said before, all this poisonous discourse aired in public only drives potential and actual subscribers away. Who’s going to pony up hundreds of dollars in advance of productions and performances that may not even happen?

    • Lohenfal

      Salome,

      In answer to your question, I already renewed my subscription for next season. These things come with deadlines. If one wishes to retain one’s location, one has to renew by the deadline. It’s as simple as that. If the season doesn’t take place, I assume I’ll get a refund, but I don’t intend to worry about it.

      Whatever one thinks of Alan Gordon’s tactics, the problems the Met faces go beyond reducing the labor costs, as I’ve indicated in previous posts. The entire institution needs a massive overhaul, with everything reconsidered. Management has to be willing to make substantial changes in its methods, not just the unions. I don’t see management planning any substantial changes. At least, we haven’t heard of any.

  • steveac10

    I hope the Met still has all of the painted flats from the Johnson era tucked in a warehouse somewhere, because in Gordon’s worldview production costs are an extravagance. Doe he not realize that the primary cost of building one of those extravagant new productions is the labor involved? Carpenters, painters, electricians, seamstresses, wigmakers, stagehands, drivers et.al. When the Met says they spent $3 million on a production that doesn’t mean $3 million dollars worth of fabric, wood, canvas and projection slides. Somebody has to make all of that and the people doing that belong to one of the 16 unions the Met is negotiating with.

    I find it interesting that to this point the Musicians Union, stagehands, electricians etc have been largely silent in the media. I still don’t get Gordon’s end game with all of his vitriolic rhetoric. He does realize that excluding dancers, the vast majority of his full time members with full time jobs work at the Met. If the negotiations implode he’ll be representing a bunch of freelancers and part time choristers in the flyover states.

    • opus

      Does he not realize that the primary cost of building one of those extravagant new productions is the labor involved?

      Terrific point.

    • I sometimes think Gordon talks that way because it’s what singers like to hear, i.e., that they are horribly oppressed, no one values them, everyone mistreats them, boo hoo hoo. This is not true of (most) A-list singers, the ones who are working constantly interesting and glamorous gigs, but the singers farther down the ladder, the ones who are underemployed or singing Sciarrone in Dayton, they have a ton of time on their hands, and they spend it looking for people to blame for their (perceived) failure.

      So Gordon conjured up a whole army of powerful enemies who are out to rob singers of what is rightfully theirs, and singers like to hear this, as it explains why Anna Netrebko is singing that part instead of them.

      • steveac10

        I think there is a lot of truth to that, and to some degree the weakness over the years of the union relative to the musicians union has a lot to do with it. If the church I worked at for 20 years needed brass for Easter, or a small orchestra to do a Mozart or Haydn mass they had to go to the musicians union to job it -- at MU minimums for both rehearsals and the performance. I got an extra 35 or 50 bucks thrown my way for doing the tenor solos and drilling the piece into tenor section of the choir (if I was lucky). It’s built into the culture of lower and mid level music making that singers will work cheap (or for free) and instrumentalists get scale. I can see him playing into that jealousy -- but we all know this is really about the chorus, not the 28 year old living on the upper west side with 4 roommates and a cupboard full of ramen who’s the 2nd cover for Adina in Elixer. The entire budget for solo singers who are not full time employees (24 mil per Gelb’s press release last week) is relatively unchanged from 8 years ago (23.5 mil).

    • steveac10 writes: “I find it interesting that to this point the Musicians Union, stagehands, electricians etc have been largely silent in the media.”

      This letter from Gordon was not a press statement but a communication to union members, even though it was leaked to the press. Correct? In any case, the other unions have not exactly been silent; see, for instance, the six locals of IATSE.

  • Illegal direct-dealing by the MET, eh?

    • Oddly enough, few people here seemed interested in the possibility that the MET had broken U.S. labor law.

      Mrs. John Claggart, as a preamble to an extensive analysis of “Opera News” and its present woes, let loose this tidbit: That Gelb was rebuked by the leader of the union that represents the chorus for trying to contact individual members enraged some fools..

      I’m guessing this story is already common knowledge. But for the benefit of those of us who are out of the loop, could somebody fill in some of the details? If the MET administration has indeed engaged in illegal direct dealing, that speaks to the probity with which they’ve been conducting themselves during the labor negotiations.

  • The National Labor Relations Act

    Sec. 8. [§ 158.] (a) [Unfair labor practices by employer] It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer-- (5) to refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives of his employees, subject to the provisions of section 9(a) [section 159(a) of this title].

    Sec. 9 [§ 159.] (a) [Exclusive representatives; employees’ adjustment of grievances directly with employer] Representatives designated or selected for the purposes of collective bargaining by the majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for such purposes, shall be the exclusive representatives of all the employees in such unit for the purposes of collective bargaining in respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of employment, or other conditions of employment: Provided, That any individual employee or a group of employees shall have the right at any time to present grievances to their employer and to have such grievances adjusted, without the intervention of the bargaining representative, as long as the adjustment is not inconsistent with the terms of a collective- bargaining contract or agreement then in effect: Provided further, That the bargaining representative has been given opportunity to be present at such adjustment.

    I’ll let those familiar with the nitty-gritty of recent NLRB precedents of “direct dealing” weigh in on the issue.

    • operaassport

      No relation whatsoever to that clause.

      Gordon writes like a 12 year old who was sent to bed without dessert.

      His reference to Gelb’s personal loss while at the same time calling him names is beyond the pale.

      How much lower can he go? Has he run over any small children today while kicking his dog?

      • Just so everybody is clear -- what is your evidence in support of this position? Have you in fact read the letter in question?

        • operaassport

          What position?

          • You wrote, “no relation whatsoever to that clause”. I assumed you were speaking from professional (or amateur lover’s) knowledge of American labor law and/or a knowledge of the letter in question. Sorry if I was mistaken.

  • 98rsd

    Mr Gordon had me when he wrote that reducing expenses wouldn’t affect the bottom line…does he think he’s writing to morons? If I were in AGMA, I’d be looking for a replacement for Gordon before I worried about Gelb.

    p.s. I love “scheduled to apper”--and I get it twice!

  • aulus agerius

    According to the documents we saw last week boxoffice is not in ‘freefall.’ Receipts are mainly flat and up substantially if HD cinema is included as b.o.

  • Chirper

    A couple of unrelated questions, posed out of sheer curiosity: What is Gordon’s annual salary and what perks come with it? With respect to the last two strikes (1980 and 1969-70, I believe), what was the impact if any on ticket sales in the succeeding seasons?

    Does Gordon have any idea whatsoever of the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the cost of health insurance. Requiring employees to contribute more toward these costs is the norm. What planet does Gordon live on.

    AGMA members need to reign him in pronto.

    • Chirper asks: “A couple of unrelated questions, posed out of sheer curiosity: What is Gordon’s annual salary and what perks come with it?”

      Unions transparency rules and the enforcement by the DOL are extraordinarily strict, far moreso than transparency by companies and government enforcement of that. Requirements for employer transparency on anti-union spending, especially, is almost non-existent.

      Every union’s LM-2 is available online via a searchable database on the DOL website. The AGMA LM-2 for 2013 shows that Gordon’s gross salary for the year was $261,602. Disbursements for official union business were $15,856, while “other disbursements” (which I assume means mostly heath care and other benefits, though I’m not sure) were $17,663. So the salary is pretty high, but not out of line with the membership, if accounts are to be believed.

      As for the throwaway line about “the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the cost of health insurance,” I really wish people would not repeat Republican talking points as if they were Gospel truth. Health care inflation has been way ahead of overall inflation for many years, and if anything the effect of the act may be to modestly restrain the growth of health care spending as compared to what would have happened if it had not passed. The Met is not McDonald’s, with an army of uninsured and underinsured workers, bringing with them the cost of the new employer mandates. Most everyone who works for the Met already had high-quality health insurance. Maybe the tax on “Cadillac plans” will bite some, I don’t know. If Chirper knows the details, I’m sure we’d all be interested to hear. But if Chirper has not done the research, either, why castigate Gordon for not doing so, and smear the ACA without knowing the facts in the bargain?

      • Apologies for screwing up my HTML tags occasionally. I will try to be more sparing with that. Anyway, I think everyone will get my points here.

      • Chirper

        Just for the record, Dabrowski, I’ve been a Democrat my entire life. That doesn’t mean I swallow the Obama administration’s b.s. hook, line and sinker. The ACA is far from being the greatest thing since sliced bread, particularly if you earn too much for a subsidy and not enough to pay your premiums without financial difficulty.

        My original comments were predicated upon Gordon’s remark that the Met was seeking to have the unions bear an increased percentage of the cost of their health coverage. As every media outlet has been reporting for months, this is now prevalent across the country. This has nothing to do with the coverage the Met unions have or don’t have—I was simply making an observation of the prevailing employer stance on the subject.

        The Affordable Care Act now makes certain coverage mandatory which translates into higher premiums. How can this be otherwise? If you want to see the true cost this imposes, I suggest you check the before and after prices of individual policies, not group insurance. I live in New Jersey and had a bare bones policy which is not eligible for renewal under the ACA. Had I been forced to stick with individual coverage, my monthly premium would have gone from $486 to $803 per month (fortunately I will be eligible for my new employer’s group plan in two weeks). Even with a complete (non-bare) bones policy, the premium jumps by over $100 per month. And this is not news—for months the New York Times has been reporting how individual policy holders are being slammed under ACA, whether they live in New York, Idaho or Missouri.

        As a former lobbyist, I can tell you the ACA in its final version threw the baby out with the bath water in several respects. Professional associations are no longer permitted to write insurance for their members, even though that insurance may meet or even exceed the mandates of the ACA (another front page article in the Times). The Obama administration wants everyone in the pool, so no private deals. While the ACA does offer a great deal to the previously uninsured and those with pre-existing conditions, it literally comes with a higher price tag for many.

        • I get what you’re saying about individual policies, but are the members of AGMA and/or the other Met unions buying individual policies? I was assuming that Met employees are covered as a group. And with the new coverage mandates, was the Met’s previous group insurance a “bare bones” deal that didn’t meet the new requirements? Both seem unlikely to me. Which means that if the Met’s health care costs are going up, it’s not due to the ACA. I’m also with you on the fact that the ACA is not the best possible solution — had a national health service with universal coverage been politically possible, it would have been preferable and more efficient — but I think that blaming escalating costs on the ACA is an exaggeration at the very best, and usually amounts to an untruth.

          This could very quickly become a tangent, though — sorry about that.

          • Chirper

            I agree with you that this is indeed becoming a tangent and that a single payer system would have been far preferable.

            Time will tell about the financial impact of the ACA upon the people it’s supposedly designed to serve. Based upon what I’ve seen, read and heard, it’s not going to be pretty.

            At this point I suggest we both shut up before we get banned.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Proposed Uses for Repurposing Large White Limestone Building with lots of Red Velour in NYC:


    • Lohenfal

      Quanto,

      Thsnks for injecting some humor into this discussion. If the Barnes & Noble across from Lincoln Center could be repurposed as a Century 21, some enterprising individual should be able to think up a new function for that large building on the Plaza. The Chagall murals could remain as a nice touch, a reminder of what was.

  • operaassport

    How much does Gordon pay his lawyers? And why is what one pays lawyers relevant?

    • operaassport asks: “How much does Gordon pay his lawyers? And why is what one pays lawyers relevant?”

      Once again, a search for the union’s 2013 LM-2 on the DOL website answers your question. In 2013 AGMA paid $95,564 to Cohen, Weiss and Simon; $17,400 to Cornfield & Feldman; and $78,183 to Freedman & Lorry. Most of the payments to these firms are listed as being for “legal services,” while there are some unitemized expenses, all of which are almost certainly related to legal work. A lot of them may be arbitration-related. There is also an $8,400 payment to Howard C. Edelman ADR Inc. for arbitrations.

      Take a guess about whether the Met is this transparent.

      • operaassport

        Lol. You interested in buying the Brooklyn Bridge?

  • Satisfied

    “How much does Gordon pay his lawyers? And why is what one pays lawyers relevant?”

    Astute observation — it really is irrelevant for purposes of negotiations. That Gordon’s attorneys haven’t told him to “SHUT THE F&*k UP!” is beyond me. Whatever the union attorneys are being paid, it really is too much in that they haven’t put a muzzle on him. They’re losing the PR war, and it’s because of Gordon.

    • steveac10

      “They’re losing the PR war, and it’s because of Gordon.”

      Exactly. None of us begrudges the chorus and comprimarios at the Met a decent living and a safe working environment, but when you’re representing a group that has seen regular wage increases and stable benefits (and no layoffs) over the last decade when most of us in the 99% have not, you might consider moderating your rhetoric. It’s pretty difficult for me to generate sympathy for someone who has no healthcare costs, a generous pension and a stable job who might have to give back some of it, when most of have lost ground on all of those fronts in the same period. As essential as opera is to my mental health, I fully realize that for 98% of the population it is not. Truth be tos -- as much as I want this art form to thrive in the future, I’d much rather my delightful 8 year old nieces teachers be paid well than a chorister at the Met (because they do realize they have a job that any singer who knows they’re not star material covets? Right?).

  • Dawn Fatale

    To be fair, the dynamic of union negotiations at the Met seems to have been one where the union seeks to address things that are unfair or onerous in the current contract. A successful contract negotiation is one where the union is able to negotiate for salary increases, increased benefits and changes in work rules that address perceived inequities and unfair burdens. I happened to come across some communications from the musicians’ union to its members about various orchestral contracts at the Met.

    The tone is much less strident, but the union’s fundamental rhetoric is similar to that implied by Gordon. This is the game as it has been played for decades.

    From 2000: http://www.local802afm.org/2000/06/local-802-and-met-opera-reach-early-contract/

    From 2005: http://www.local802afm.org/2005/11/met-orchestra-makes-deal/

    • Dawn Fatale

      “implied” should be “employed”

  • Talk of the Town

    Over-the-top letters like this one seem to me to be pretty standard in union negotiations in any industry (along with the slightly more diplomatic but equally factually problematic communications from management that we have also seen). They are rather a genre unto themselves and the parties involved know how to read between the lines. The rest of us blush!

    Re: the “Wendy White” strategy, as of this month her lawyer and the Met’s lawyer are still arguing over whether the law allows her to sue the Met for damages or whether the mandatory remedy is workers compensation benefits. Assuming the Court finds it’s the latter (and that is just an assumption: I don’t practice law in the US), it would be outside the parties’ power to negotiate, and if it’s the former, there’s no need to negotiate.

  • arepo

    Apper=Appear
    One time -- bad enough, but twice? It throws water on the entire letter.

  • arepo

    Am I behind the times?
    What happened to Peter Gelb (or family personal loss) that has not been talked about yet (or has it?)

  • Further leakage:

    From: “Gelb, Peter” Subject: Clarification regarding our principal singer contracts
    Date: May 22, 2014 at 1:21:10 PM EDT
    To: [addresses redacted]

    To the Managers of the Metropolitan Opera Principal Artists,

    Please disregard Alan Gordon’s latest email (as well as his previous ones) relating to principal singers with contracts to perform at the Met. We are not asking for any change in their contractual terms. While it is correct that we are attempting to negotiate new agreements with our unions in order to control costs, it is only with the intention of ensuring the future financial stability of the Met. Mr. Gordon is grossly exaggerating our initial proposals to the unions (that do not apply, in any case, to the principal singers) in an apparent attempt to destabilize the negotiations. Thanks for your understanding.

    Best wishes,

    Peter Gelb

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      You call that sitting shiva?

  • PushedUpMezzo
  • redbear

    Did we see this Huffington Post thing?
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/21/metropolitan-opera-pay-cut_n_5365215.html

    The point here is that the HD broadcasts have greatly increased the costs of production. Instead of a view from the audience, the stage has to be ready for its close-up. Production people say it is way more costly and time-consuming. Question: was this included in the figures for how successful the HD broadcast are? Could this explain the increased production costs and, if so, why take it out on the backstage salaries?

    • Clita del Toro

      Perhaps they can cut corners and just put Vaseline on the camera lenses?

      • manou

        …and also Vaseline on the critics eyeballs?

        • Clita del Toro

          Manou LOLOL