New York, NY –There hasn’t been a live performance at the Metropolitan Opera House since March 12, of 2020 when the Met ordered all backstage workers to vacate the building. The Met locked out Local 1 IATSE stagehands in December after demanding an across-the-board 30 percent pay cut, as well as cuts to health insurance, sick and vacation pay, overtime and other benefits.
The union represents 3,500 members: stagehands, technicians, and skilled craftspeople. The stagehands’ contract expired during the coronavirus lockdown.
But instead of negotiating a new contract, Met management, led by Peter Gelb, has decided to outsource set production work for “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” “Don Carlos” and “Rigoletto” to non-union shops on the West Coast and Wales. Local 1 President James Claffey says that the worst thing about what the Met is doing is their timing.
“General Manager Peter Gelb and the Met Opera Board of Directors have chosen a pandemic as leverage to pursue conditions and wage reductions during a time when the workforce is at its worst,” Claffey said in a statement. “No one has received pay since March 31, 2020. It’s appalling that the Met Opera and Peter Gelb would use the pandemic as leverage to try to achieve such a dramatic reduction at a time when things are so bad. There is no other employer in New York and the country seeking these kinds of demands in the worst time in our history and the country’s history.”
Gelb, in contrast, raked in $2,025,791 in salary and benefits from August 2018 to July 2019. The Met also pays for his tony Midtown apartment.
Claffey told LaborPress that IATSE has asked donors, including the Ford Foundation, which underwrote “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” and elected leaders to withhold support from the opera house until negotiations resume.
“Local 1 and IATSE and all entertainment locals at the Met don’t know how any city, state, or federal money could go to the Opera, which has shipped out work to the West Coast and Wales,” Claffey said.
Local 1 will hold a rally outside the Met on May 13, to protest management’s actions.
“[The lockout] will turn into a strike,” Claffey said. “They won’t get anyone to return to work ’til they do the right thing with our contract and other contracts as well.”