NEW YORK, NY – The United Scenic Artists (USA 829), Local 829 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), begins contract talks today with management of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Talks will largely focus on money and safety issues. The Met wants to cut wages for all of its unionized employees. Union members, while willing to consider some belt-tightening, believe management’s spending is out of control.
Yesterday, 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.”
USA 829, representing scenic artists, and set, lighting, costume and projection designers, is one of six IATSE local unions currently in negotiations with Met management. Management is demanding severe wage and benefit cuts from opera employees. At the same time, opera management is asking backstage employees to do more as the number of productions rise and grow in complexity.
“Doing more with less is not a recipe for success,” said Cecilia Friederichs, a costume designer who serves as National Business Representative of USA 829. “Our members design the sets, the lights, costumes and projection that create the look and feel of live and broadcast opera for our audience. Piling on new tasks and new technical requirements while cutting back our hours and our wages is hardly a way to meet the discerning standards of opera patrons – much less attract any new audiences.”
The work of scenic artists, like that of other backstage Met employees, has significantly changed with a surge in new opera productions, many of which are co-produced with other artistic organizations, resulting in reduced hours of work for USA 829 members. At the same time, scenic artists and designers 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.
Instead of seeking collaborative solutions to the problems caused by mismanagement and uncontrolled spending, the Met’s leadership is attempting to blame its own cost overruns on the craftspeople, artists and technicians who have helped create the reputation for artistic excellence, which is the organization’s greatest asset.
“The Met is more than a job or a career for the people who work here,” said Friederichs. “It’s a lifelong passion. We’re committed to working as hard as we can to solve the cost problems management has created and bringing new life into a cultural treasure that we live, breathe and deeply believe in.”
“We’re confident we can find solutions,” she said, “so long as management realizes that successful negotiations require creativity and collaboration – just like the world-class artistic productions our members have been creating for decades.”
The IA has created a website focused on the Met negotiations at SavetheMetOpera.com.