Met Opera talks halted for financial review as labor dispute threatens lockout

Dray Clark reports on a potential lockout that threatens to halt performances of the Met Opera
The show will go on - for now.

The Metropolitan Opera and unions representing its singers, dancers and musicians agreed Saturday to halt labor negotiations for a week and avoid a threatened lockout while an independent analyst studies the organization's finances.

The Met and the unions agreed to the review at the request of a federal mediator brought in this week to end the contract dispute, which has threatened to disrupt one of the world's most prestigious cultural institutions.

Prior to the agreement, the Met said twice it would lock out workers if new contracts were not settled - first at 12:01 a.m. Friday and then, after a 72-hour extension to allow the mediation process to play out, at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The Met, the American Guild of Musical Artists and Local 802 of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York said affected workers would continue in their regular duties under the terms of a contract that expired July 31.

A Met spokesman would not say whether a lockout would be threatened in the future.

Eugene Keilin, a co-founder of KPS Capital Partners LP, will perform the financial study and provide a non-binding report to assist in reaching new collective bargaining agreements, according to a statement from the unions.

The Met said Keilin's findings will remain confidential.

"We are encouraged with this step forward that we believe will address the issues in contention and will ultimately lead to an agreement that is fair to everyone," James Odom, president of the American Guild of Musical Artists, said in a statement.

The opera's season begins Sept. 22 and rehearsals are already underway for the first wave of productions, including "Le Nozze di Figaro," ''La Boheme" and "Macbeth."

The Met reached agreements with three unions earlier. It said discussions with its largest union - Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees representing stagehands - and nine other bargaining units were being put on hold temporarily.

Local 1 president James Claffey Jr. said in a statement that his union had settled past contracts with the Met in the fall and would continue to bargain toward a new deal without the help of a mediator.

"We want to see the show go on," Claffey said.

Met General Manager Peter Gelb has demanded that the unions accept salary cuts of about 17 percent to cover a deficit of $2.8 million in the Met's $326 million annual budget.

Union chorus members earn a base pay of about $100,000 a year and as much as $200,000 with overtime. Orchestra musicians' salaries also top $100,000.

With the cuts, some union members said they would lose as much as 30 percent of their income through additional pension cuts and higher health care costs.

Union members have frequently cited what they call the Met's "extreme waste," including the $169,000 cost to build a poppy field in this year's $4.3 million production of Borodin's "Prince Igor" and Gelb's insistence on special spotlights on singers in 25 productions that cost $466,152, according to chorister Rebecca Carvin.

"We all look forward to a fair and independent analysis of the complex issues we have been contending with for months," Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi said. "This is a significant development."

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