NEW YORK, N.Y.—Stagehands at the Metropolitan Opera have reached a tentative contract agreement to end a seven-month lockout, their union announced July 6.
The Met’s stage and shop crew members voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the full membership ratify the deal, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local One said in the announcement. The 350 locked-out stagehands, who handle carpentry, lighting, sound, props, and building sets, were planning to begin returning to work July 7.
The ratification vote is scheduled for July 18. The union will not release specific details about the contract until after that vote, a Local One spokesperson told LaborPress.
“We’re pleased that our stagehands will now be immediately returning to work and that we have a clearer path to opening our season on schedule in September,” Metropolitan Opera management said in a statement. It too said it would not comment about the terms of the agreement until after the vote.
Local One said that it was important to reach a deal this week, because otherwise the Met’s 2021-22 season, scheduled to begin Sept. 27 with the opening of Terence Blanchard’s opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones, would have to be postponed or cancelled.
“Getting to this point required overcoming hard feelings due to the lockout of our members and crafting some innovative solutions,” Local One President James J. Claffey Jr. said in the announcement. “We were coming down to the wire. If talks had dragged on any longer it may have been impossible to prepare the opera house for a September opening. This agreement makes it possible for the 2021-2022 opera season to begin as scheduled.”
The Met locked out the stagehands in December, saying it needed major concessions after losing more than $150 million in revenues from being closed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. It demanded that their salaries be reduced permanently by 30%, equivalent to 20% of salary and benefits. Claffey castigated management at a rally in May for delivering that demand with a “take it or leave it” attitude.
The lockout also closed the doors to the other IATSE members among the Met’s 3,000 employees: the costume designers, tailors, and dressers of Local 764; the box-office workers of Local 751; the hair and makeup artists of Local 798; the broadcast technicians of Local 794; and the scenery painters and designers of sets, lighting, costumes, and sound of USA 829.
According to Local One, “no formal or informal talks” took place between the union and the opera company’s managers for six months after the lockout began. They resumed after Met executive director Peter Gelb asked the union to come back in the week of June 7 to prepare the opera house and load in sets for the forthcoming season, and the union said its members would not return without a contract.
Unlike the contract talks before the lockout, Local One said, Gelb was present at the bargaining table when they resumed on June 7. The union said they culminated with several days of “nearly round-the-clock negotiations” that lasted into the July 4th holiday weekend.”
“It would have been a new kind of opera tragedy if the Met remained closed,” IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb said in the announcement. “But we’re not done yet. Our union has many members at the Met beyond those represented by Local One. We need to make sure that their contracts are settled and their issues are addressed.”