That's the impression one gets from the latest news on an increasingly bitter labor dispute at New York City Opera. The Opera, facing very difficult financial circumstances. The most recent opening gala was a bitter disappointment, drawing only 250 people. Fundraising has been difficult, due, of all things, to regime uncertainty. George Steel, the opera's general manager, says“The labor strife puts a crimp in our ability to raise money. People are waiting to see what happens.”
In an effort to keep things afloat, the Opera has moved out of its home at Lincoln Center to different, less expensive office space, cut its administrative staff by 43% and is hoping to slash its budget from $31 million down to $13 million. That is serious cutting. In order to accomplish this goal, Steel says the Opera's labor contracts with the musicians must be restructured. Ah, as Hamlet might say, there's the rub. The musicians union is in no way appreciative of this effort and it is easy to understand why. Their present contract pays musicians $40,000 a year plus provides health insurance. The new contract desired by the opera company would reduce their salary to $4,000 a year and take away their health care coverage. The union has threatened a strike that they know full well could bring the Opera down completely.
The worst thing, however, from the point of view of the union is that Steel wants the freedom to hire non-union musicians. Gail Kruvand, a double bassist and
chairwoman of the orchestra negotiating committee, is quoted in the report that“They want to turn this into a freelance contract and hire whoever they want." That is the crux of unionism. Labor unions ultimately fight for restrictionist wages. They do not wish increase their compensation through restricting their own labor. They hope to do so by restricting the labor of others.
The dispute has most recently went to arbitration where both sides of the dispute met with a federal mediator in an effort to keep the fat lady from singing.