Met Opera’s Deal With Its Choristers Has Less Savings Than It Sought

The union representing the Metropolitan Opera’s chorus staved off calls for a 30-percent reduction in payroll costs that the company had...


The union representing the Metropolitan Opera’s chorus staved off calls for a 30-percent reduction in payroll costs that the company had said it needed to survive the pandemic. But the contract it tentatively agreed to will save the Met millions by modestly cutting pay, moving members to the union’s health insurance plan and reducing the size of the regular chorus.

The American Guild of Musical Artists was the first of the Met’s major unions to strike a deal with the company over pandemic pay cuts. Its members — who also include soloists, dancers, actors and stage managers — are currently learning about the specifics of the deal and are still voting on whether to ratify it.

For months, the Met’s management has said it was seeking to cut the payroll costs for its highest-paid unions by 30 percent, which it said would effectively cut their take-home pay by around 20 percent. It said that half of its proposed pay cuts would be restored once ticket revenues and core donations returned to prepandemic levels.

But the tentative four-year contract the guild agreed to includes cost savings that appear to fall short of that goal, according to an outline of the deal provided by the union. (The union declined to specify the total value of the cuts it agreed to, and the Met declined to provide details.)

Most categories of employees the union represents, including choristers, will see 3.7 percent cuts to their pay, most of which will be restored after three years. For soloists who get paid per performance, the cuts are deeper, with the highest-paid soloists seeing a 12.7 percent cut that will be fully restored in three years.

There are no provisions in the deal that make the salary restoration contingent on box office numbers or donations.

“Considering what the Met was originally seeking in concessions, I think this tentative agreement was really the fairest resolution for our members,” said Leonard Egert, the national executive director of the guild.

As Broadway shows put tickets back on sale and performing arts groups across New York City plan their comebacks, the Met’s plan to return to its stage in September has been threatened by contentious labor disputes. While this deal is a hopeful sign, the Met remains involved in tense negotiations with the union that represents the orchestra, and it has yet to restart formal negotiations with the union representing stagehands, who have been locked out since late last year.

The Met, which says that it has lost $150 million in earned revenues since the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close its doors more than a year ago, said in a statement, “It’s very important for the Met’s plan to reopen in September that A.G.M.A. members ratify this agreement.”

The Met will save more than $2 million by moving guild members off its health insurance plan and onto the union’s plan, guild officials said. Employees may have to switch doctors and will likely pay more in out-of-pocket health care costs, said Sam Wheeler, a guild official who helped negotiate the deal.

To save money, the guild has allowed the Met to cut its regular, full-time chorus from 80 to 74 members, with one position set to be restored at the end of the contract. The positions will be cut through attrition, not terminations, guild officials said.

“This was a big give for the chorus,” Wheeler said, “but this was part of the shared sacrifice that we hope will get the Met open.”

The agreement includes a number of provisions that address diversity and inclusion efforts at the Met, which hired its first chief diversity officer earlier this year.

The Met agreed to send the guild an annual report about its effort to recruit applicants from underrepresented groups; to create a diversity, equity and inclusion committee associated with the guild; to start a demographic survey of its employees that includes questions about race and sexual orientation; to engage an organization to develop racial justice training for Met staff; and to ensure that hair stylists and makeup artists have “cultural competence” when it comes to working with cast members of color.

The deal also adds language to specify that guild members’ contracts can be canceled if they have engaged in certain kinds of serious misconduct — a measure that was not in the previous contract. The Met had proposed a morals clause that would have allowed it to terminate a contract under a broader range of circumstances, but the final agreement limited it to “truly serious conduct,” a guild spokeswoman, Alicia Cook, said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Met Opera’s Deal With Its Choristers Has Less Savings Than It Sought
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