The Latest Waypoint In The Met’s Ugly Labor War

The Met is seeing a surge in negative feedback across their social media channels in response to the executive leadership’s decision to weaponize the negotiation process. By that, we mean it decided to cut off artist and technical employees from all current wages and insurance unless they agree to sizable long-term concessions.

In an attempt to bolster good will and maintain audience engagement, the Met decided to release archived recordings from their HD broadcast series free of charge. A quick trip to their Facebook page shows the bulk of comments to each announcement focus on calling out the organization for their decision to eliminate artist and technical employee wages.

There’s an additional level of irony here in the decision to use these archived broadcast performances. When the Met originally designed that program, it required a great deal of work to negotiate revised media agreement terms with artists and tech crew.

For those outside the field, media agreements are perhaps one of the most contentious elements of the modern orchestra/opera collective bargaining agreement. One of the musicians’ longest and most ardent concerns is the employer will abuse flexibility by using recorded content in ways not intended without providing artists any residual benefits.

It’s taken decades of negotiations and baby steps to begin building trust and demonstrating value. Seeing the Met use these performances in a way that can be perceived as leverage in a labor dispute only serves to justify musician fears.

This sort of behavior should make the Met’s executive leadership as popular with his peers as the kid in class that reminds teacher they forgot to assign weekend homework. It’s unlikely to see that sort of displeasure spill out publicly but it is a genuine shame to see media agreement progress get cut off at the knees in this fashion.

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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