The musicians of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra have decided to accept a contract providing them with paychecks for the first time in nearly a year in exchange for returning to the negotiating table where the company seeks permanent wage cuts as it sees fit keep surviving the pandemic.
The Met’s musicians and most workers were on leave in April, shortly after the pandemic forced the opera house to close. Months later, the Met offered the musicians partial compensation in exchange for significant long-term cuts, but their union refused. Then the Met softened its position: Since the end of December, it has been offering musicians the option of temporarily paying up to USD 1,543 per week if they agree to start negotiations. While the union representing the choir agreed to the deal more than a month ago, it took the orchestra’s union longer to accept the deal.
On Tuesday, the musicians of the orchestra, which became the last major ensemble in the United States to be paid without a contract to pay for a pandemic, agreed to the offer, according to an email sent by the Met Orchestra Committee to its members.
“We are very pleased that our agreement with the orchestra has been ratified and that they will receive bridge compensation starting this week,” the Met said in a statement, “along with the start of meaningful discussions on a new agreement.”
The orchestra committee, which represents the actors in negotiations, declined to comment.
The Met’s relationship with its musicians was controversial during the pandemic months. Musicians were frustrated with the long time without pay and feared that their pay would drop significantly even when they returned to the opera house.
The Met has insisted that economic sacrifices will be made due to the financial impact of the pandemic, which it claims has cost the company $ 150 million in revenues. For the highest-paid unions, the company is aiming for a 30 percent cut – the take-away pay change would be around 20 percent – with a promise to restore half that when ticket revenues and core donations return to preandemic levels.
Under the contract, musicians will receive up to $ 1,543 for eight weeks. Any money they receive from unemployment or business stimulus payments is deducted from this amount. If the musicians and the Met have not reached an agreement after eight weeks, but negotiations are productive, the partial paychecks will be extended according to an email from the Met to the orchestra explaining the offer. The musicians’ employment contract expires at the end of July.
The Met offered the same offer to its choir singers, dancers, stage managers, and other staff represented by another union, the American Guild of Musical Artists. This union accepted the deal in late January and its members have been receiving paychecks for about five weeks.
The opera company is confident that it will be able to perform for the public in the fall. The premiere, however, will depend on where the virus and vaccination rates are and how the Met’s labor disputes play out. The company locked out its stagehands in December after the union rejected a proposal for substantial wage cuts.
In a notice to Met staff sent on Friday, a year after the Met closed, the company’s general manager Peter Gelb wrote that there was a “light” at the end of the tunnel due to the president’s accelerated vaccination rate Biden had announced. Nonetheless, Mr Gelb wrote, the Met “had to come to terms with the economic needs” that the pandemic has demanded.
“Even before the pandemic, the profitability of the mead was extremely challenging and had to be reset,” wrote Gelb. “With the pandemic we had to fight for our economic survival.”