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Met Opera workers fight for a fair contract to stay out of poverty

Stephon Johnson | 7/31/2014, 4:06 p.m.
Fast-food workers aren’t the only ones fighting for a fair wage. Last Thursday evening, hundreds of Met Opera workers and ...

Fast-food workers aren’t the only ones fighting for a fair wage.

Last Thursday evening, hundreds of Met Opera workers and community members held a rally to protest a contract proposal they claim would set them on the path to poverty. Workers have also objected to the threat of a lockout while their union, 32BJ, is negotiating in good faith with management. The workers claim that they want a deal that will save the Met Opera money but also protects workers.

“The medical is very important to me,” said Met Opera office clerk Edward Florencio, whose wife just gave birth to their first child and who makes about $17 an hour, in a statement. “My wife can’t go right back to work after the baby.”

Under Met Opera’s contract proposal for its 32BJ members, a single person could pay close to $6,000 a year for health coverage, and for workers with families, it could cost them $12,000 (including a $4,000 deductible and up to $12,000 in total out-of-pocket costs). That would be approximately 30 percent of an average full-time employee’s pay—more than half of what part-time workers make.

“Our members cannot afford a lockout, and they cannot afford Met Opera’s proposal. Either option hurts the workers and their families too much,” said 32BJ SEIU Vice President Shirley Aldebol in a statement. “We also object to Met Opera’s threat of a lockout. We have been bargaining in good faith and working hard to find a solution that would help Met Opera save money without pushing our members to the brink of poverty. We plan on continuing to bargain until we can agree on a deal that’s fair for everyone.”

Met Opera management recently threatened to lockout workers if an agreement wasn’t reached by the end of July (when 15 of the 16 union contracts expire). Met Opera workers, who consist of 150 security guards, ticket takers, ushers, cleaners, matrons, safety persons, freight elevator operators and office clerks who make between $17 and $22 an hour, have stated that a lockout would be devastating for them and their families. Individual COBRA coverage costs $1,255 and family COBRA coverage costs $2,793. That’s what workers would face if they lose their health care.

“I love my job at Met Opera,” said Lisa Segura, a security guard at Met Opera and a single mom, in a statement. “Right now, I make enough to get by and pay my bills, but with what Met Opera is proposing, I couldn’t make it. I don’t know what I would do.”