You Might Think The Met Labor Fight Is Between Employer And Union, But You’d Be Wrong

The New York Times published an article by Michael Cooper on 5/5/2014 that reports on the official opening of negotiations between The Metropolitan Opera (The Met) and the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), the chorus, dancer, singer, and stage manager union. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that bargaining started off in the worst way; in fact, it appeared to simply be an extension of the public theatrics both sides have been tossing about for a few weeks now.

ITA-GUY-117And most reasonable observers would think that the fight is between The Met and AGMA and certainly, there will be plenty of fireworks in that arena; but the real battle to keep an eye on won’t likely spill out into public forum and that’s the internal struggle among the numerous unions involved in the overall bargaining to retain unity.

Granted, the verbal pyrotechnics from AGMA National Executive Director Alan S. Gordon often slide into street corner ranting but if you take the time to sweep away the hyperbole, you’ll notice a few telling items. For example, take this excerpt from a 5/6/2014 statement from Gordon (emphasis added).

The AGMA negotiating committee made it clear to Peter that the only way in which the three unions and their members would consider helping him stabilize the Met’s finances were 1) If he accepted some measure of oversight by the performers to control his astronomically increased spending and 2) If he agreed to find ways to reverse the waste, excess and extravagance that have thus far been the hallmark of his current administration.

This isn’t the first time Gordon has spoken on behalf of the other unions involved in the bargaining yet I have yet to come across anything from those unions to corroborate or verify that Gordon has any authority to speak on their behalf (if it is out there, I’d love to see it, please leave a comment with a reference link). Moreover, it is difficult to miss how much more restraint the other unions have demonstrated by refraining from PR tactics espoused by Gordon.

If these negotiations manage to evolve into a work stoppage, it will be interesting to see if the other union leaders begin to distance themselves from Gordon or even attempt to reign in his antics. For now, if The Met has any interest in playing old school bargaining games (and sadly, their actions to date demonstrate that is precisely the case), all they need to do is agitate Gordon and give him ample opportunity to talk. Doing so only increases the potential for preventing a genuine united front among the unions involved in these talks.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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4 thoughts on “You Might Think The Met Labor Fight Is Between Employer And Union, But You’d Be Wrong”

  1. It seems like an uphill battle for the unions to work together when Mr. Gordon has previously said things like:

    “…when the singers are the product or the dancers are the product they deserve better than anyone else…We don’t want you to give less to anybody, but we don’t care what you give them because we want more…Orchestras have always been paid better than opera singers or ballet dancers, and we think that’s wrong…People don’t go to the ballet to hear the orchestra. They go to the ballet to see the dancers…The orchestra’s irrelevant; they could be replaced tomorrow by a computer or a record. We’re entitled to more because we are the product…”
    (re San Francisco Ballet negotiations, quoted in Backstage magazine

    With friends like that…

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