Even When the Music Returns, Pandemic Pay Cuts Will Linger

When the coronavirus outbreak introduced performances throughout america to a screeching halt, most of the nation’s main orchestras, dance firms and opera homes briefly minimize the pay of their employees, and a few stopped paying them in any respect.

Now, hopes that vaccines will permit performances to renew subsequent fall are being tempered by fears that it might take years for hibernating field workplaces to rebound, and plenty of battered establishments are turning to their unions to barter longer-term cuts that they are saying are essential to survive.

The disaster is posing a significant problem to performing arts unions, which in current many years have been among the many strongest within the nation. Whereas musicians at some main ensembles, together with the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, have agreed to steep cuts that might have been unthinkable in regular instances, others are resisting. Some unions worry that the concessions being sought might outlast the pandemic, and reset the steadiness of energy between administration and labor.

“Traditionally, labor agreements within the performing arts have been transferring towards more cash and higher situations,” mentioned Thomas W. Morris, who led main orchestras in america for greater than three many years. “And swiftly that isn’t an choice. It’s a basic change within the sample.”

Nowhere is the stress between labor and administration extra acute than on the Metropolitan Opera, the biggest performing arts group within the nation. Its artists and different employees, a lot of whom have been furloughed with out pay since April, are resisting a suggestion by administration to start receiving lowered wages of as much as $1,500 per week once more in change for long-term pay cuts and modifications in work guidelines. After failing to achieve an settlement with its stagehands, the corporate locked them out last week, shortly earlier than extra have been scheduled to return to work to start constructing units for subsequent season.

However musicians in a rising variety of orchestras are agreeing to long-term cuts, recognizing that it might take years for audiences and philanthropy to bounce again after this prolonged interval of darkened live performance halls and theaters.

The New York Philharmonic introduced a new contract final week that can minimize the bottom pay of musicians by 25 p.c by mid-2023, and which can go away the gamers incomes lower than they did earlier than the pandemic struck when it expires in 2024. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, one of many richest ensembles within the nation, agreed to a brand new three-year contract lowering pay by a mean of 37 p.c within the first yr, step by step rising within the following years however solely recovering absolutely if the orchestra meets at the least one among three monetary benchmarks. The San Francisco Opera agreed to a brand new deal that halves the orchestra’s wage this season, however later makes up some floor.

Unions play a significant function behind the scenes at many arts organizations. The contracts they negotiate not solely set pay, but additionally assist set up a variety of working situations, from how many permanent members an orchestra ought to must how many stagehands are needed backstage for every efficiency as to whether Sunday performances require additional pay. It’s not unusual to see main orchestras abruptly finish rehearsals mid-phrase — even when a well-known maestro is conducting — when the digital rehearsal clock exhibits that they’re about to enter extra time.

Staff and artists say that many of those guidelines have improved well being and security and raised the standard of performances; administration has typically chafed on the expense.

Many nonprofit performing arts organizations, together with the Met, confronted actual monetary challenges even earlier than the pandemic struck. Now, they are saying, they’re combating for his or her survival, furloughing or shedding administrative workers and searching for aid from unions.

“Unions are very reluctant to make concessions; it goes towards all the things commerce union technique has informed them for 100-plus years,” mentioned Susan J. Schurman, a professor of labor research and employment relations at Rutgers College. “However clearly they perceive that that is an unprecedented state of affairs.”

However at some establishments, together with on the Met and the John F. Kennedy Heart for the Performing Arts in Washington, employees are accusing administration of making an attempt to make the most of the disaster to push for modifications to their union contracts that they’ve lengthy sought.

Peter Gelb, the overall supervisor of the Met, desires to chop the pay of employees by 30 p.c, and restore solely half of these cuts when field workplace revenues recuperate. He hopes to realize many of the cuts by altering work guidelines. In a letter final month to the union representing the Met’s roughly 300 stagehands, Native One of many Worldwide Alliance of Theatrical Stage Staff, he wrote that “the well being disaster has compounded the Met’s earlier monetary fragility, threatening our very existence.” He additionally wrote that the common full-time stagehand price the Met $260,000 final yr, together with advantages.

“For the Met to get again on its ft, we’re all going to must make monetary concessions and sacrifices,” Mr. Gelb informed staff in a video name final month.

There are 15 unions on the Met, and whereas the leaders of a number of of the most important have mentioned that they’re keen to comply with some cuts, they’re pushing again on modifications that might outlast the pandemic and redefine work guidelines that they’ve lengthy fought for — particularly after so many employees, together with the orchestra, refrain and legions of backstage employees, have endured many months with out pay. The Met’s orchestra, which is represented by Native 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, mentioned in a press release that administration was “exploiting this short-term state of affairs to completely intestine contracts of the very employees who create the performances on their world stage.”

Leonard Egert, the nationwide government director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents members of the refrain, soloists, dancers, stage managers and others on the Met, mentioned that unions acknowledged the troublesome actuality and have been keen to compromise. “It’s simply that nobody desires to promote out the longer term,” he mentioned.

In Washington, the stagehands on the Kennedy Heart are combating an identical battle. David McIntyre, president of Native 22 of the alliance, mentioned he has been in contentious negotiations with the Kennedy Heart for months over their demand for a 25 p.c pay minimize, one thing that’s onerous for the union members to abdomen after a lot of them have gone with out pay since March.

Administration can also be asking for concessions reminiscent of an elimination of time-and-a-half pay on Sundays, he mentioned, a change that might be everlasting fairly than restricted to the pandemic. The union stagehands are notably indignant as a result of the Kennedy Heart received $25 million from the federal stimulus invoice handed in March.

“They’re simply making an attempt to get concessions out of us by leveraging a pandemic when none of us are working,” Mr. McIntyre mentioned.

A spokeswoman for the Kennedy Heart, Eileen Andrews, mentioned that a number of of the unions that it really works with already accepted pay cuts, together with the musicians with the Nationwide Symphony Orchestra, and that the restoration from the pandemic wanted to be achieved by “shared sacrifices.”

Organizations have misplaced tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in ticket income, and the outlook for the philanthropy that they depend on for his or her survival stays unsure. As union negotiations proceed inside the grids of video calls fairly than across the typical stuffy board room tables, either side acknowledge the monetary fragility.

In some respects the pandemic has altered the negotiating panorama. Unions, who usually have super leverage as a result of strikes halt performances, have much less for the time being, when there are not any performances to halt. Administration’s leverage has modified as effectively. Whereas the Met’s risk that it might lock out its stagehands until they agreed to cuts carried much less menace at a second when most staff weren’t working anyway, its supply to start paying employees who’ve gone with out paychecks since April in change for long-term agreements could also be onerous to withstand.

At some establishments, recollections of the destructiveness of current labor disputes have helped foster cooperation throughout this disaster. On the Minnesota Orchestra, the place a bitter lockout saved the live performance corridor darkish for 16 months beginning in 2012, administration and the musicians agreed on a 25 p.c pay minimize by August.

And the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which had its personal hard-fought labor dispute last year, managed to achieve settlement on a five-year contract this summer time, slicing the pay of gamers sharply at first earlier than step by step rising it once more.

The final time a nationwide disaster of this magnitude affected each performing arts group within the nation was through the Nice Recession, when organizations sought cuts to offset the decline in philanthropy and ticket gross sales, triggering strikes, lockouts and bitter disputes.

Meredith Snow, the chair of Worldwide Convention of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents gamers, mentioned that labor and administration largely gave the impression to be working collectively extra amicably than they did then — at the least for now.

“There may be extra of a recognition that we have to be a unified face to the neighborhood,” mentioned Ms. Snow, a violist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, “and that we are able to’t be squabbling or we’re each going to go down.”

“You come collectively,” she mentioned, “otherwise you sink.”

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