The deal at the Met

LENIN-CAT-1The more I look at it, the more surprising the deal reached between management and unions at the Metropolitan Opera seems.  I have never seen a North American management cede so much power to the unions representing its workforce.  It appears that the structure, apparently described in the draft contract as an “Efficiency Task Force” will have a substantial role in the overall management of the enterprise comparable to, perhaps more powerful than, the supervisory boards that operate in countries like Germany.  This is a monumental change in governance model.  Most North American opera companies operate with a pretty much all powerful General Manger loosely supervised by a board that is too large to be an effective oversight vehicle, not helped by the fact that the sole qualification for membership is a large wallet and a willingness to open it.  This gives GMs the choice of operating as a dictator, which is what has happened at the Met for decades, or, smarter, operating with a handpicked subset of the board as an advisory group.  Neither approach provides much in the way of checks and balances.

For my part, I think it’s a terrific outcome.  Opera is an industry where the workforce is knowledgeable and committed to the success of the enterprise.  The workforce is also probably more “in touch” than the typical opera company board member.  It also creates room for genuine differences of opinion to emerge and bee worked out unlike the current structures.  That seems to me to generate the sort of informed creative tension that makes for good decision making.  I’m also more than a bit amused that the board is calling this a triumph for Gelb.  That’s a bit like saying 1917 was a result of the tsar’s “innovations”.

Here’s the text of the latest missive from the orchestra with their take on matters.

Dear Friends,

We are delighted to announce that all of the Metropolitan Opera’s unions have reached agreements with Met management. Pending ratification of these contracts, the coming season will begin as scheduled, with a September 22 performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro under beloved Music Director James Levine. This outcome is a triumph for the Metropolitan Opera and its sustainable future.

Throughout these contentious negotiations, a clear question emerged: What has been driving increased costs? We have maintained that a sustainable future for the Met must be based on cost-saving measures beyond simply cutting employee compensation. Our data-driven approach was substantiated by numbers directly from the Met, and the independent financial analyst, Eugene Keilin, ultimately agreed with our assertion that the Met could best realize major savings through more efficient spending. Moreover, as part of the settlement, the Met’s finances will be subject to unprecedented oversight, with powerful new mechanisms put in place for enforcement and accountability. The contract calls for an “Efficiency Task Force” between artists, management, and the board, which will have direct input on spending practices. Mr. Keilin will continue as a contractually-mandated partner working directly with this task force to trim unnecessary costs, ensuring that the Met can be run more effectively.

We hope our unique system for financial oversight will be a model for other organizations, and will give all stakeholders the means to ensure that the past practices that led us to this brink will not be repeated, here or anywhere else. Critically, the deal accomplishes all of this while preserving the artistic core of the house. The orchestra’s base compensation rate remains untouched and will see an increase in the 4th year. Instead, cuts in compensation will primarily be felt through the reduction of a fixed payment. Met administration will see matching cuts, beyond which management is contractually obligated to cut another $11.25M annually. This arrangement reflects the “Equality of Sacrifice” provision of our pending contract; we are all tightening our belts because it is in everyone’s best interest to see the Met prosper in the coming years.

We are hopeful that these new structures will bring about a new era of artistic vitality and fiscal responsibility. None of this would have been possible without the countless hours volunteered by hundreds of individuals, both inside the Met and out. And of course, we remain grateful to you — our dedicated fans, friends, and colleagues — for your ceaseless support. Thank you, and we’ll see you on September 22!

The MET Orchestra Musicians

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