The musicians of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra have voted to accept a deal that will provide them with paychecks for the first time in nearly a year in exchange for returning to the bargaining table, where the company is seeking lasting pay cuts that it says are needed to survive the pandemic.
The musicians, and most of the Met’s workers, were furloughed in April, shortly after the pandemic forced the opera house to close. Months later, the Met offered the musicians partial pay in exchange for significant long-term cuts, but their union objected. Then the Met softened its position: Since the end of December, it has been offering to pay the musicians up to $1,543 a week on a temporary basis if they agreed to start negotiations. While the union representing the chorus agreed to the deal more than a month ago, the orchestra’s union took longer to accept the deal.
On Tuesday, the musicians in the orchestra, which became the last major ensemble in the United States without a deal to receive pandemic pay, agreed to take the offer, according to an email sent by the Met orchestra committee to its members.
“We’re very pleased that our agreement with the orchestra has been ratified and that they will begin receiving bridge pay this week,” the Met said in a statement, “along with the start of meaningful discussions towards reaching a new agreement.”
The orchestra committee, which represents the players in negotiations, declined to comment.
The Met’s relationship with its musicians has been contentious during the pandemic months. Musicians have been frustrated by the extended period without pay, and worried that even when they returned to the opera house, their pay would be significantly reduced.
The Met has insisted that economic sacrifices need to be made because of the financial impact of the pandemic, which it says has cost the company $150 million in earned revenues. For its highest-paid unions, the company is seeking 30 percent cuts — the change in take-home pay would be approximately 20 percent, it said — with a promise to restore half when ticket revenues and core donations return to prepandemic levels.
Under the deal, musicians will receive up to $1,543 for eight weeks; money they get from unemployment or stimulus payments is deducted from that total. If, after eight weeks, the musicians and the Met have not reached an agreement but the negotiations are productive, the partial paychecks will be extended, according to an email from the Met to the orchestra explaining the offer. The musicians’ labor contract expires at the end of July.
The Met offered the same deal to its choristers, dancers, stage managers and other employees who are represented by a different union, the American Guild of Musical Artists. That union accepted the deal at the end of January, and its members have been receiving paychecks for roughly five weeks.
The opera company is hopeful that it can start performing for the public in the fall, but opening night will be determined by where the virus and vaccination rates stand, as well as the outcome of the Met’s labor disputes. The company locked out its stagehands in December after their union rejected a proposal for substantial pay cuts.
In a note to Met employees sent on Friday, one year after the Met shut its doors, the company’s general manger, Peter Gelb, wrote that there was a “light at the end of the tunnel” because of the accelerated pace of vaccinations that President Biden had announced. Still, Mr. Gelb wrote, the Met needed to “come to terms with the economic necessities” that the pandemic has demanded.
“Even before the pandemic, the economics of the Met were extremely challenging and in need of a reset,” Mr. Gelb wrote. “With the pandemic, we have had to fight for our economic survival.”