The Met Settles: Here Are Some Details That Are Probably New To You

On Tuesday, 8/24/2021, The Metropolitan Opera announced it had reached an agreement with the musicians’ union that will get the opera company back up and running by early September. While a copy of the final agreement has yet to be released, I did manage to secure some details from inside sources with firsthand knowledge.

The four-year term generates a 20 percent cumulative cut for existing musicians that comes from a variety of pain points including base salary and health care benefits.

The key word there is “existing.”

If these advance reports are accurate, it appears the current agreement lays the foundation for a two-tier caste system where incoming musicians will receive less compensation, worse health care plans, and a host of additional reductions that puts decidedly less money in their pocket for doing exactly the same work as their veteran colleagues.

Let’s call these cumulative cuts a new member penalty. We’ll revisit these points once more information emerges.

Another big change, if my advance information is accurate, is the minimum number of musicians employed gets nearly decimated. Previously, the minimum number of musicians The Met must employ was 90 but the new agreement slashes that number down to 83 and it only creeps up to 85 by the end of the four-year term.

One item I’m especially interested in confirming is whether or not the agreement contains any COVID protocols for protecting the health and safety of musician employees. Granted, not every performing arts org incorporates this language into the CBA but if my information is accurate, The Met doesn’t have a signed side letter, Memo Of Understanding, or other legal agreement that specifies these protections.

Barring these protections, getting back into the confined environment that is an opera orchestra pit is akin to volunteering to be the proverbial canary in the coalmine. How would you react if you were in those musicians’ shoes?

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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