Over the past three weeks, a federal mediator has been working with City Opera, the American Guild of Musical Artists (which represents the company's chorus members, principal singers, stage managers, and directors), and Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians (representing the orchestra and conductors) in an attempt to resolve an ongoing labor dispute.
Last May, City Opera announced that it could not afford to remain at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater. The company has reportedly cut its budget from $31 million to $13 million; it has also decreased its number of productions this season to four. In an effort to reduce costs, City Opera wants to do away with salaries for chorus and orchestra members and pay them only for rehearsals and performances. The unions argue that the company's proposal would eliminate dozens of jobs and result in pay reductions of 90 percent for workers who have already taken large salary cuts in recent years.
"As we have said countless times, we have to transition to the model that most opera companies use—paying people only for the work that they do," said George Steel, City Opera's general manager and artistic director, in a written statement. Negotiations broke down on Saturday, when the unions refused to accept management's latest offer.
Gail Kruvand, assistant principal bassist and the chair of Local 802's City Opera negotiating committee, said in a statement: "We made a good-faith effort to say that, yes, we are willing to sacrifice…. During the mediation process that ended unsuccessfully, we offered further economic concessions. Steel's intransigence in rejecting our many constructive proposals is the death knell for one of New York's cultural treasures."
On Sunday, City Opera canceled the scheduled rehearsal and declared a lockout because it believed it would have risked paying workers to rehearse only to have union members strike on opening night. "La Traviata" is scheduled to begin its run Feb. 12 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.