Glib Gelb’s Garish Gaffe

Over the weekend, the Metropolitan Opera (Met) Orchestra musicians and their employer engaged in a round of he-said, she-said PR exchanges in the wake of the musicians 84 page document examining what they define as administrative failings. Granted, there’s plenty of material there worth exploring but today’s post is going to examine a crucial bit of news via the 7/25/2014 Associated Press (AP) that flew under the radar.

Published in the 7/25/2014 edition of FoxBusiness.com, the AP article includes quotes from Met General Manager, Peter Gelb, about the impending lockout and its impact on the company’s efficiency and artistic merit.

“We need to impose a lockout because otherwise we have no ability to make [the union employees] take this seriously,” Gelb said in an interview Thursday. “The short-term pain is something we’d have to live with in order to provide long-term survival.”

Adaptistration-Guy-175The important part to note here is the lack of any discussion related to engaging a play and talk agreement to help release pressure, prevent revenue loss, and encourage mutual concession. Instead, Gelb appears to view a work stoppage as nothing more than a hammer from a 1960s era labor tool kit and as the adage from that same decade goes, “Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.” ~ Abraham Kaplan.

Unfortunately, times have changed and initiating a work stoppage in the post-economic downturn environment has been escalated from a hammer to a weapon of last resort.

Anyone who has been paying attention to the field since 2008 has seen the devastating impact poorly designed work stoppages (both lockouts and strikes) have on an institution; just look at what happened in Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis, Louisville, Minnesota, and St. Paul. The Met is no exception to this new rule and you can expect that a bitter work stoppage will reap equally devastating results.

The AP closes out the article with one last quote from Gelb about his outlook on the ongoing relationship with Met employees via a reference to the musicians.

“Once the dust settles,” [Gelb] added, the musicians “don’t have to love me to play well.”

Indeed they don’t, but they do need to respect you.

In the end, don’t be surprised for the Met’s thermonuclear labor dispute to quickly turn into a “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” style showdown.

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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10 thoughts on “Glib Gelb’s Garish Gaffe”

  1. Thank you for your comments. I saw that quote about the supposed necessary imposition of a lockout and my blood began to boil! I’m so glad it caught the media’s eye. I’m a twenty year veteran of the Met Chorus and this is no game.

  2. So what’s your comment on 802’s bare-faced lie that Gelb is going to reduce the base pay of the orchestra by 25%? Is it negotiating in good faith to spread such deliberately inflammatory untruths?

  3. I plan to address the musician’s statements and Met’s reply at some point later in the week although I suspect one or both sides will continue to release some info over the next few days. To that end, I’ve found that it is best to let the dust settle before jumping into analysis when so much info has been released.

    Nonetheless, what aspect in particular about the document (for reader reference, located here) and/or information you have otherwise that led you to the conclusion that the musician position is inaccurate?

    For more reader reference, although correct me if I’m wrong, the bit you’re referencing is on page 49.

  4. Perhaps Mr. Gelb should not be paid until the musicians are back at work and being paid. That might get his attention…

  5. The guy has failed in every aspect. Time for a change. Perhaps Volpe should be running it again for 6 months while a new more competent manager is found.

  6. What’s astounding is that one would think that Gelb all of a sudden realized the Met is in financial trouble. He must have known for months or probably years. And then to waste millions on a new Ring production to boot. On the other hand, when members of the chorus earn $200K it’s hard to say they can’t accept a salary/pension reduction. The Met Board ought to fire Gelb and agree to binding arbitration or set up a joint union/management committee to figure out how to right the Met’s boat. Unfortunately, a lockout may lead to the ruin of the Met or at least a major diminution of its productions and its reputation.

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