Will New York's Met Opera Avoid Bankruptcy?

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New York City's Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center.

The Metropolitan Opera reached tentative agreements Monday morning with the unions representing its orchestra and chorus after an all-night bargaining session, according to the The New York Times

"These were difficult and highly complex negotiations, and I wish to commend the parties for their resolve in addressing multiple and complex issues,” federal mediator Allison Beck said in a statement to the Times. “We are grateful for their commitment to the collective bargaining process and grateful most of all that the Metropolitan Opera, one of the world’s premier cultural institutions, will continue providing outstanding operas for all to enjoy."

As Billboard reported in this week's issue, contracts with most of the Met’s 16 labor unions expired July 31, and GM Peter Gelb had threatened to lock out 2,400 workers if the unions didn’t accept cuts in wages and benefits amounting to more than 16 percent.

At issue: The Met wants to cut almost $30 million in labor costs. The unions say that’s excessive (the Met’s operating budget is $327 million and it’s in deficit by just $2.8 million). The Met says that were it not for extraordinary fundraising efforts, the deficit would be higher and warns that the organization could go bankrupt in three years.

The unions counter that the deficit is Gelb’s fault and allege a litany of artistic excess and financial missteps, arguing that the GM’s focus on risky new productions has been a fiscal disaster, that wasteful overspending abounds and that the Met has overpriced its tickets (orchestra seats for Aida run from $105 to $320) to the point where total revenue has suffered. “Management needs to cut up its credit cards,” says a spokesman for IATSE Local 1, which represents stagehands and other crew.

But lockout losers also include the musicians and performers who would suffer lost wages and have to pay for their own health insurance. Federal mediators were called in to negotiate among the Met, Local 802 and the American Guild of Musical Artists (representing chorus singers) with an Aug. 17 deadline. Behind the scenes, a source close to the negotiations says, are differences in viewpoint among the unions that may have complicated matters.

The terms of the new agreements weren't disclosed.


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