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|Washington National Opera|
In Partnership With: AFM, AGMA
A working partnership brings artistic harmony on and off stage
For an opera staging to be successful, it must deliver a balance of extraordinary music, dramatic acting, memorable dancing, and breathtaking scenery. The artists and managers at the Washington National Opera have discovered that their performances benefit from a new era of harmonious cooperation backstage as well.
Relations between artists and management at the opera had been strained for many years due largely to inadequate pay and lack of health benefits, leading to two strikes in the 1990s by the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA). But the Washington National Opera and its unions eventually realized a contentious relationship was unproductive, and formed a labor management committee to address the disputes and concerns through a more open, cooperative process. Combined with a change in company leadership, the committee enabled both sides to more easily resolve disputes, eventually paving the way toward more efficient and less contentious contract negotiations.
Opera followers know the word opera is Italian for work, but many aren’t aware of the need artists often have for union representation. Prior to the turnaround, low pay and no health benefits meant most performers weren’t able to make a living wage. Choristers and dancers were financially burdened with the high costs of meeting the professional standards of working for the opera, including voice lessons, dance instruction, and foreign language immersion. Thanks to this new climate and strong contracts with AGMA and the American Federation of Musicians, performers can hone their talents while earning a better living. Wages for performers have more than doubled, employees are entitled to healthcare benefits, and they can now invest in the company’s retirement plan.
Tricia Lepofsky, a chorister, is one of many company members singing the praises of the partnership. “We have a very qualified pool of dedicated people who now seem to be very appreciated by the opera,” she says. “I love my job and I don’t know many people who can say that. I want to work for the Washington National Opera for as long as I can.”
Good drama can’t exist without conflict and resolution. The Washington National Opera, its performers, and their unions provide a great example of how contentious labor-management relationships can be resolved when both sides are willing to listen to one another, compromise, and work together.
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