NEW YORK, NY – Members of Local 798 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IA), representing makeup artists and hair stylists at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, will begin contract talks today with opera management.
Local 798 members are the third group of Met employees to begin negotiations this week. Local 829, representing scenic artists and designers began talks on Tuesday, June 17th. Local 751, representing treasurers and ticket sellers, began talks on Wednesday, June 18th.
Prior to the start of negotiations, the Met announced its goal of wage cuts for all of its unionized employees. Members of Local 798 and other Met unions, while willing to consider some belt-tightening, believe management’s spending is out of control.
The Met’s schedule of high-definition opera broadcasts in 1,900 theatres around the globe, says Local 798 Business Representative Daniel Dashman, has dramatically changed the jobs of makeup artists and hair stylist.
“Our members have worked tirelessly to improve their craft and upgrade their skills – at their own time and expense – to meet the technical and aesthetic demands of HD video,” said Dashman. “And their reward it be threatened with a pay cut?”
“When that camera zooms in on a singer’s face as he or she reaches for that high note, the audience is seeing an extreme close-up of the artistry that goes into makeup and hair styling,” added Dashman.
Although they are being asked to take a pay cut, Local 798 members, like other backstage workers, have been required to adjust their craft to meet new technical requirements for the Met’s program of HD simulcasts to 1,900 movie theaters around the globe.
Across the board, opera employees are questioning why the Met is demanding pay and benefit cuts from employees while delivering raises to top management. Earlier this week, the Met’s 990 tax-reporting forms were released for 2012 (the most recent year available) showing that the opera company’s general manager, Peter Gelb received a 26 percent increase in pay and benefits. Gelb received $1.8 million that year in compensation according to the 990s. In a statement to the New York Times, the Opera’s spokesman Peter Clark said that Gelb has since taken a 10 percent cut in pay.
Joe Hartnett, the IA’s Assistant Director of Stagecraft, termed this “a rebate on an overcharge,” and noted that Gelb used a similar maneuver during the last round of labor negotiations in 2009. “Nobody’s fooled when management gives themselves a 26% raise and then takes a 10% pay cut right before negotiations,” said Hartnett. “We’ve been waiting all week for an explanation of why the same management that has driven up costs and mismanaged the revenue stream deserves a raise, while the workers who actually produce the opera are being asked to take a pay cut. We’re still waiting.”
“Our members are dedicated to their craft and to delivering the highest level of artistry for productions at the Met,” said Dashman.“We know how important this institution is to New York City and to opera lovers around the world. We’re absolutely committed to finding solutions that make the Met stronger than ever. We know that if management meets us halfway, we can get the job done.”