Personnel expenses account for $200 million of the Metropolitan Opera’s $327 million budget. The Met wants to reduce labor costs by 16% by getting the union to accept modern-day, common sense work rules and less generous pension and health benefits. Orchestra members reportedly make $200,000 per year on average and get 16 weeks off with pay. The base pay for chorus members, who also make on average $200,000, covers four performances a week. The members are paid extra for rehearsals, even if they haven’t sung in performances. They also earn overtime for any opera longer than four hours, which has caused the Met to forego performing many popular operas because they lasted too long.
The hard part for the Met will be getting the union to agree to those changes. According to the union, the Met overspends on set construction and decorations and should seek cost reductions in those areas before targeting employee pay and benefits. As one commentator said, “only unions would complain that an opera manager is spending too much on opera and not enough on overtime pay and pension benefits.”