A move that might be best described as entirely expected, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra musicians unanimously authorized their negotiating committee to call a strike if negotiations fail to produce a new agreement after the current one expires on Thursday, July 31, 2014.
Interestingly enough, the 5/12/2014 edition of the New York Times reported that the “union representing the orchestra…vot[e]d to authorize a strike should negotiations with management fail.”
This is a bit misleading as it makes it seem that these decisions are made by elected union officials rather than the actual musicians; instead, decisions such as strike authorization votes and ratifying an agreement are done by the rank and file musicians; more often than not via a majority rule vote. Consequently, the local union office representing the musicians is not in a position to initiate such decisions.
In short, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) has no more authority to authorize a group of orchestra or opera musicians to strike than Met General Manager, Peter Gelb, has to initiate a lockout. The only individuals with that authority are the Met’s board of directors.
But from a broader perspective, approving a strike authorization vote 10 weeks in advance of the current agreement’s expiration is traditionally a strong indication of a tough bargaining environment and/or conflict between one or more negotiators from both sides.
In the end, a strike authorization is a tool and like any bargaining tool, it can be wielded in a clumsy, antagonistic fashion or as a no-nonsense method for mitigating brinkmanship. Given how far in advance of the expiration date this authorization was approved, the latter scenario is more likely. At the same time, it is certainly not a guarantee that both parties will cut to the chase and reach a deal before the end of July.