Alan Gordon, embedded journalist, reports from inside the first AGMA/Met negotiation session.
Subject: Update On AGMA-Met Negotiations
Date: May 6, 2014 at 3:06:15 PM EDT
The first session of contract negotiations between AGMA and the Met began on May 5th. Although Peter Gelb did not again stress his intention to lockout all Met employees on August 1st, discussions between AGMA and the Met continued to be contentious over Gelb’s proposed treatment of performers.
Due to public interest in the fate of the Met, the run-up to the negotiations has been covered extensively by the Times, the Wall Streeet Journal and other media outlets….
AGMA had requested that reporters from the various media be allowed to observe and report on the negotiations so that the ticket-buying public could remain aware of the controversial issues, but Gelb refused and insisted that what he had to say should be kept secret, and that all the reporters who we had invited had to leave before he would even come into the room.
Gelb then repeated the disjointed financial presentation he had previously made to the Orchestra and the Stagehands. Although the ultimate point of the presentation seemed unclear, it did reveal that the Met’s budget had increased by more than $100 million since he took over, that he had overdrawn the Met’s endowment, and that the box office remained in decline and had not been improved by his HD campaign. He also reported that HD revenue, and the profit sharing money for solo artists from HD, had begun to diminish. He reiterated his intention to seek deep cuts in compensation from all segments of the AGMA shop, including solo singers.
Following Peter’s presentation, AGMA began a lengthy safety discussion, introduced by Wendy White, who described in detail the horrendous way in which the Met had treated her after her career-ending injury, one that had been caused by the Met’s admitted negligence. Wendy, as many of you know, had performed more than 500 times at the Met, until she became crippled as a result of the collapse of a negligently constructed platform. Apparently to save money, the platform had been constructed by an outside company, not by Met stagehands. After Wendy had been injured, Gelb initially refused to pay out her contract because “she couldn’t sing”. After AGMA threatened litigation, Gelb paid her what he owed her, but thereafter his team of lawyers aggressively fought, and continues to fight, Wendy in court in opposition to her efforts to recover damages from the Met to compensate her for its negligence.
As you may not know, however, is that many of you have absolutely no protection against a career-ending injury when you 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.
Gelb also revealed the details of the supposed “new business plan” he had announced in his end-of-season message to Met employees. He described as “spend less, earn more”, even after it was pointed out to him that “spend less, earn more”, was not an actual business plan.
Although the true extent in the cuts and working conditions he has proposed, as they affect solo singers, remains unknown, what was apparent from the May 5th meeting was that Peter simply doesn’t care about the effect on people. His interest is only in cost cutting and says that the Met’s Board has instructed him…perhaps as a condition of his continued employment as General Director…that he must reduce compensation and Gelb says that he’ll take it from “everybody”.
The AGMA negotiating committee made it clear to Peter that the only way in which the three unions and their 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 2) If he agreed to find ways to reverse the waste, excess and extravagance that have thus far been the hallmark of his current administration.
We are obviously aware that many of you have Met contracts for the next season, and we will do everything possible, in cooperation with the other two unions, to assure that Gelb does not force the Met to go dark as a tactic to bully his employees. Likewise, we will keep you advised as negotiations progress toward the July 31 contract expiration.