NEW YORK (AP) — It's a drama worthy of the Metropolitan Opera: Frantic, last-minute labor negotiations aimed at averting a lockout that threatens to stop both pay and benefits for thousands of singers, musicians, stagehands and other workers.
With just an hour to spare before general manager Peter Gelb's vow of a 12:01 a.m. Friday deadline that would trigger a lockout, the company announced it had agreed to a federal mediator's request to extend the talks by 72 hours.
"We want to work together with union representatives, and do everything we can to achieve new contracts, which is why we've agreed to an extension," Gelb said.
The Met also announced it had reached new contract agreements with three of the 15 unions whose contracts expired at midnight: Local 32BJ, Local 210, and Local 30.
Local 32BJ represents ushers, ticket takers, cleaning staff, porters, security guards and office service workers; Local 210 represents the call center; and Local 30 represents building engineers, the Met said.
A statement from the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees said opera workers will report to work as scheduled on Friday.
Tino Gagliardi, president of the Met's orchestra union, called the extension a constructive move, but he said settling the dispute in three days is "highly unrealistic given Gelb's proposed draconian cuts."
A lockout would have disrupted the new opera season for the first time in three decades.
At issue are the Met's finances. Gelb has demanded that the unions accept salary cuts of about 17 percent, to cover a deficit of $2.8 million in the Met's $326 million annual budget.
But unions representing about 2,500 chorus singers, orchestra musicians, stagehands, carpenters and others say they'll lose as much as 30 percent of their income through additional pension cuts and higher health care costs.
Union chorus members earn a base pay of about $100,000 a year and as much as $200,000 with overtime. Orchestra musicians' salaries also top $100,000.
Gelb says the salaries of union members represent about two-thirds of company costs and that's where cuts should be made to balance shrinking ticket sales, a depleted endowment and rising operating costs.
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