AGMA’s Alan Gordon cries “Havoc!” and lets slip the dogs of war, and by “dogs” La Cieca means “artist managers.” It’s another email, leaked after the jump.

From: [email protected] [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, June 03, 2014 12:00 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: From AGMA – Your Commissions are At Risk

To All Agents Representing AGMA Principal Artists:

As you are by now well aware, the members of AGMA, Stagehands’ Local 1 and Orchestra Local 802 have been forced into a high stakes battle, with the future of employment at the Metropolitan Opera, (and, ultimately, at every opera house in America) on the table.

Thinking that “this doesn’t affect you or your principal artist clients” would be a mistake of incalculable dimensions. What Peter Gelb is planning for principal singers is worse than what he’s planning for the chorus.

Principal singers are often tempted to think that AGMA means nothing to them, that contract negotiations are irrelevant to them, that their fees are secure because of their agents and their talent, that the union can’t protect them. Any singer who feels that way should now be prepared to have their current fees and their agents’ commissions reduced by at least 10% and future fees reduced by 20-30%.

The Met under Peter Gelb has, in essence, declared war on its performing artists, instrumentalists, stagehands and on the unions representing them and on all of the Met’s other represented employees, in an effort to deflect focus from the waste, excess, extravagance and out-of-control spending that has been the hallmark of Gelb’s administration.

You may know that for its staff choristers, dancers, and production personnel, the Met has proposed a reduction of 20-30% in compensation, a 40% reduction in pensions, an increase of $15,000 in annual health insurance costs for every family, elimination of overtime pay, drastic reductions of vacation, personal time, and sick leave, eliminating minimum call requirements, eliminating anything other than base compensation for production personnel, reducing dancer compensation by 50-60% and eliminating all dancer fringe benefits, eliminating all fees, benefits and other-than-base compensation for staff Directors, and has proposed increased media and HD work-loads but reduced media compensation.

What he’s proposed for soloists is a slashing of media revenue sharing compensation, more rehearsals on weekends and evenings including costume fittings, photo shoots, and any other chores the Met may require, complete elimination of Plan B contributions, longer days without any breaks, all without any extra compensation or protective work rules.

Worse, a Met ‘victory’ at the bargaining table on these issues would be followed immediately by an emboldened Gelb unilaterally imposing reductions of principal artist fees by 20-30% for future contracts. For already executed contracts for work at the Met, Gelb will ask singers to ‘voluntarily’ reduce already contracted fees by 10-15%, with the unmistakable implication that a refusal will impact future work opportunities at the Met. In addition to the things that Gelb has proposed for soloists, equally important is what he hasn’t done with regard to principal singers: The Met continues to refuse to address the safety and negligence issues that have recently led to a career-ending injury to one of our principal artist members. Gelb has refused even to acknowledge our proposal that working condition safeguards be put in place to prevent future negligence and that supplemental workers compensation insurance be provided to protect soloist income in the event of an injury.

This war, which is in fact nothing short of economic warfare, affects all employees working at the Met. The underlying problem for your AGMA member clients, of course, is that if the Met can decimate its union contracts and unilaterally reduce the fees that it’s willing to pay to soloists, other employers will try to do likewise.

An early indication that this was not going to be business as usual was that Gelb terminated Joe Volpe as the Met’s negotiator and took on the negotiations himself despite a complete lack of labor negotiating experience. He also replaced the deal-making management lawyer that Volpe had used with a new lawyer, known for fomenting lock-outs as a negotiating tactic. Gelb’s actions and his oft-repeated threats foretell his determination to lock out all of the Met’s unionized employees after the July 31 contract expirations as a tactic to bully the artists into accepting his proposals.

Stripped of hyperbole, we need to treat the Met’s proposals, in essence, as asking its employees to make an ‘investment’ in its future by agreeing to contract concessions that might stabilize its fiscal situation. Like all of the Met’s employees, the future welfare of our own members’ careers throughout the industry is, to one extent or another, bound up in the future welfare of the Met. But to make any kind of investment, we need to be treated as actual investors would expect to be treated: entitled to complete and thorough knowledge about every aspect of its finances, a meaningful review of and approval over its business and strategic plans, oversight of future spending, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of its administrative operations. And to have a real opportunity to implement the steps necessary to improve the likelihood of an actual return on our investment. Thus far, the Met has refused to provide us with meaningful financial data, has refused to engage in any measure of transparency, and has admitted that its heralded ‘new business plan’ consists solely of ‘spend less and earn more’. Moreover, Gelb refuses to agree to any limits or controls on his spending. No investor would venture a dime on a business that refuses to supply information and adopts such a vacuous ‘plan’ for its future.

Until the Met can acknowledge and accept basic, sound business practices and conditions, no ‘investment’ in its future is possible, and we are left instead with an economic war: Peter Gelb’s threat to lock out all unionized employees vs. the concerted determination of all of those employees to save the Met, notwithstanding Peter Gelb’s intransigent plan to destroy it.

This is a battle that none of us can avoid, and one that neither your clients nor you can afford to lose.

Alan Gordon
Executive Director