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Met Opera Musicians Rally As Contract Talks In Labor Dispute Continue

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Metropolitan Opera musicians and others say they want to work with management to avoid a lockout that would shut down one of the world's premier opera companies.

Several dozen union members rallied outside Lincoln Center Friday morning after labor talks were extended for an additional 72 hours.

Tenor Nathan Carlisle said workers want to work with Met General Manager Peter Gelb to find a middle ground. He called the Met "an amazing place to work.''

With just an hour to spare before 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.

"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.

Met Opera Musicians Rally As Contract Talks In Labor Dispute Continue

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 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.''

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.

The Met's operating costs have swelled by an estimated $100 million in the last eight years as they've expanded their reach globally.

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.

"The difficult part for me is that, it's not that I want to cut their wages, I have to for the Met to survive," said Gelb.

The artists contend that their doubled income is due to Gelb's insistence on staging expensive new productions that got bad reviews but required a lot of overtime and technical challenges, such as Wagner's "Ring'' cycle. They say they're bearing the brunt of his decisions.

"We're not saying you can't do the grand lavish productions, but how about maybe instead of doing six, how about you do five," said Joseph Hartnett with the IATSE union.

Union members have frequently cited what they call the Met's "extreme waste,'' including the $169,000 cost to build a poppy field in this year's $4.3 million production of Borodin's "Prince Igor'' and Gelb's insistence on special spotlights on singers in 25 productions that cost $466,152, according to Carvin.

If the federal mediated talks don't succeed, the largest classical music organization in North America, created in 1883, may be shuttered for the new season set to begin Sept. 22.

Even if talks lead to a compromise, some spectators already have refrained from buying tickets, leery of performances that may not happen in the 3,800-seat theater.

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