Hundreds of demonstrators rallied Thursday in front of New York's prestigious Metropolitan Opera to protest a lockout of stagehands, part of a lengthy labor dispute over proposed wage cuts.
Workers including electricians, technicians and craftspeople were joined by musicians, actors, union representatives and local politicians over the lockout dating back to December 2020, when contract negotiations collapsed.
"We are the Met!" people chanted at the rally, which punctuates months of tensions threatening the globally renowned institution's fall season.
The Met employs more than 3,000 staffers, the largest performing arts organization in the United States. The pandemic forced its stages dark in March 2020, when it furloughed all of its union members.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees says the Met and its general manager Peter Gelb have negotiated in bad faith, demanding 30 percent wage cuts that would remain in effect even after live performances recommence.
Met management disputes that its proposed cuts will be that deep or long-lasting for the average employee, but insists reducing salaries is necessary to sustain the house's future.
Workers -- who operate one of the most technologically advanced stages in the world -- accuse management of using the pandemic as leverage to force what they call unfair contract stipulations, and to union-bust by outsourcing work during the lockout.
"It's an exploitation of a health crisis that has decimated our industries and caused our country tremendous grief," said Matthew Loeb, the international president of the IATSE.
The labor rally comes days before the opera will perform in front of a live audience for the first time in 430 days, with two shows slated for Sunday.
"It's sad," said Carl Mulert of the local branch of United Scenic Artists.
"There are second- and third-generation people who work at the Metropolitan Opera; this is their home."
'Slap in our face'
This week, the Met reached a tentative agreement with the union whose representees include chorus members and soloists, the specific terms of which are not yet public. That ratification process is set to begin later this month.
The union for orchestra members, along with music staff and librarians, has accepted bridge payments but is still negotiating over the conditions of longer-term contracts.
All were out Thursday supporting the stagehands, who say the Met has sent production jobs overseas to Wales for two operas, and work for its fall opener to a non-union shop in Los Angeles.
"It's a slap in our face," said Peter Tudor, a 63-year-old electrician employed at the Met for 25 years.
The Met Opera told AFP in a statement it "has no desire to undermine" its unions, but "having lost more than $150 million in box revenues over the past 14 months, we are facing the worst economic crisis in the 137 year history of the Met and must reduce our costs in order to survive."
New York lawmakers have loosened live performance restrictions in recent weeks, and several top Broadway shows have announced their fall return.
The Met -- which drew criticism for livestreaming pay-per-view concerts during the pandemic featuring artists outside its orchestra -- is aiming to open September 27.
That reopening hinges in part on resolving its ongoing labor disputes -- and both sides accuse the other of stalling.
"We all want to get back to work," said Kathryn Bloss, a painter at the Met for three decades. "We have a very detailed sort of work that is our heart and soul.
"We are the Met... it is a family."
On Thursday, NBC4 Washington reported that Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) is being sued by a former staffer who alleges a litany of misconduct, including that he "recklessly" exposed congressional staff to COVID and made them do personal favors for his family.
Lamborn represents a central Colorado district that includes Colorado Springs, a historically conservative, military-heavy city.
"In the suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, former Lamborn military aide Brandon Pope claims he was the victim of retaliation for 'seeking to protect employees from unsafe conditions in the workplace,'" reported Scott MacFarlane. "According to the lawsuit, 'Lamborn did not require employees in the District Office to wear masks, claiming that he would not allow House Leadership to dictate how he ran his office, and he did not permit all employees to social distance. Worse, when Lamborn and other senior members of his staff became infected with COVID-19 in the fall of 2020, Lamborn refused to implement or follow reasonable and responsible COVID-19 protocols.'"
A number of Republican lawmakers have faced accusations of putting staffers at risk by violating COVID protocols, including former President Donald Trump himself.
"The suit said Lamborn slept in his DC office during the same time period in which some of his D.C. staff had tested positive for the virus in October, during a week of votes in the US House," said the report. "Pope also tested positive for the virus by November, according to his suit. Pope was fired, the suit says." And Lamborn also allegedly called the virus a "hoax" in staff meetings.
"The suit also alleges Lamborn staff were asked to perform personal tasks for the congressman. Pope also alleges, 'Staff were compelled to give Christmas and birthday gifts to Representative Lamborn and his wife,'" said the report. "The lawsuit also said the congressman allowed his son to live in a storage space in the basement of the Capitol for weeks when his son was relocating to Washington."
Lamborn and his attorney have not offered comment on the matter.
ALERT: New lawsuit also alleges Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) allowed his son to live in a storage space in basement of… https://t.co/WUwMssNWZT— Scott MacFarlane (@Scott MacFarlane) 1620939403.0
The influence of special interest groups extends far beyond campaign fundraising and donations, in one case a big-money group is behind writing legislation for Republicans.
In a Mother Jones, investigative reporter Ari Berman, obtained a video of Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America is the one who bragged about how "easy" it was to get their legislation passed by Georgia Republicans. In some cases, she said that they try and make it look more organic so the public doesn't question whether it was written by a special interest group.
"In some cases, we actually draft them for them," she said in the video, "or we have a sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe."
According to Anderson, Georgia's voter suppression law had "eight key provisions that Heritage recommended."
Ironically, Anderson appeared on Fox News to attack nonpartisan groups she said are actually left-wing. She went on to lie about a massive election fraud conspiracy on the network saying that it is "real" and it can be "proven."
Heritage Action for America is the political group behind the Heritage Foundation.
See the video below and read the full report at Mother Jones.
Leaked Video: Dark Money Group Is Writing Voter Suppression Laws www.youtube.com
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