Metropolitan Opera in Late Union Talks to Avoid Lockout!

The Metropolitan Opera in New York says it hopes last minute negotiations with unions will avoid a staff lockout.

The company had planned to close its doors to union members if new contracts, with reduced benefits, could not be agreed by 1 August.

It says it is must reduce its costs if it is to avoid bankruptcy.

The unions have so far rejected less generous contracts, raising the possibility of work stopping just weeks before a news season opens.

A brief statement from the opera company said it expected talks to continue into the small hours.

“The Met plans to be in negotiations all day and into the night with representatives of its three largest unions… in the sincere hope that we will be able to agree to new contracts before midnight and continue preparations for our 2014-15 season without a work stoppage.

“It’s too early for us to know if we will be able to extend the contract deadline, but the Met is willing to compromise,” it said.

“If the other groups are as well, we’re confident that we can reach new agreements.”

The American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents the Met’s chorus, and Local 802, which represents its orchestra, have agreed to the immediate appointment of an independent mediator to work “with both sides to find a compromise agreement”, according to the statement.

The Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, had threatened to lock out staff unless they accepted cuts in their overtime pay, pensions and other benefits.

With contracts due to expire at the end of July, the Met says it has offered new, five-year deals to its musicians, chorus and stagehands, which include a leaner benefits package.

The company says it could save up to 17% in costs by making changes such as reducing paid holiday entitlements.

It insists it can make the savings without reducing base pay rates for its staff.

However, the unions have so far rejected the proposed package.

With a production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro due to open on 22 September, a lockout could derail the Met’s forthcoming season before it has even begun.

The Met says it is facing “one of the biggest financial challenges in its 131 year history”.

And Gelb warned earlier that opera as an art form could disappear “if measures are not taken to make it fit in the 21st Century economy”.

But it’s Gelb himself who is blamed by the unions for the Met’s declining fortunes. They say his productions have been far too extravagant.

A recent production of Borodin’s Prince Igor included a spectacular poppy field set which cost $169,000 (£100,000).

But Gelb told the BBC last month the cost was justified. “A hundred and sixty-nine thousand dollars for an entire scene of an opera is not a lot of money,” he said.

“It was the main visual component of the piece and, in fact, Prince Igor was acclaimed by critics as perhaps the greatest production of the Met season.”

He also pointed to cost savings through co-productions with other companies such as English National Opera.