- Associated Press - Thursday, December 1, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - New York City Opera declared an impasse Thursday in contract negotiations with unions for its singers and musicians, threatening to present its abbreviated season without them and unilaterally imposing new work rules.

The unions for the company’s singers, chorus and ballet dancers responded by saying it may strike, and it asked individuals and corporations to boycott purchasing tickets and withhold donations to the financially troubled company.

General Manager George Steel said the City Opera planned to present a season “one way or another” _ an indication it may try to continue without unionized musicians. He said City Opera wanted to “make music with the artists who are eager to work with us.”

Alan Gordon, national executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, said the AFL-CIO likely will “instruct its members to deal with City Opera as a union-buster.”

“We would tell our members they can’t work,” he said during a telephone interview. “Maybe George will sing?”

The unions represent about 45-70 musicians, up to 40 chorus members and roughly a dozen directors and stage managers plus the principal singers brought in for productions.

The unions filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board in May, one week after the company announced it was leaving Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, its home since 1966. The NLRB has not ruled on the charge, which alleged management illegally decided on the move without bargaining. The unions say they will file a second charge over the new work rules.

“We view this as an unlawful impasse,” said Tino Gagliardi, president of local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the orchestra. “We were willing to continue to talk last night, but they walked out. I think that movement was being made on both sides.”

City Opera, which claims deficits of $44 million over a decade, announced in July a schedule of four operas at three venues from February to May next year.

Once negotiations began in June, City Opera asked the union to switch from guaranteed salary for about 26-29 weeks a season to a pay-by-performance contract that included the elimination of year-round health insurance.

There was just one bargaining session per month in the summer, and management set an Oct. 31 deadline that the sides agreed to extend through November along with health coverage.

Local 802 claimed income for musicians and singers would be reduced from $40,000 to $4,000 annually, and Steel’s salary and benefits of about $400,000 would be higher than the pay of the entire orchestra.

Steel was just given a new contract through January 2015 and his salary is $324,000, according to opera spokeswoman Risa Heller.

“They seem hell-bent on wreaking havoc, not on finding a way forward,” Heller said. “Though we have made our final economic offers, we are prepared to get back to the table when the unions are willing to discuss our proposals.”

According to the implemented terms, obtained by The Associated Press, there would be no salary increase this season, a 1 percent raise in 2012-13 and a 2 percent hike the following season.

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