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NYC's Metropolitan Opera reaches deals with orchestra, chorus; talks continue with 10 unions

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - New York's Metropolitan Opera reached tentative labour deals with two of its largest unions early Monday while negotiations continued with 10 more unions in hopes of averting a lockout.

The federal Mediation and Conciliation Service announced the agreements with Local 802 of the musicians' union and with the American Guild of Musical Artists, its orchestra and chorus. Details of the agreements were not released.

A spokesman for the Met said the contract deadline has been extended through midnight Tuesday with the remaining unions.

The Met had set a deadline of midnight Sunday. A lockout could threaten the opera's season, scheduled to start Sept. 22.

Allison Beck, deputy director of the mediation service, thanked Met General Manager Peter Gelb and the leaders of the two unions that settled Monday.

"We are grateful for their commitment to the collective bargaining process and grateful most of all that the Metropolitan Opera, one of the world's premier cultural institutions, will continue providing outstanding operas for all to enjoy," she said in a statement.

Gelb had demanded pay cuts of about 17 per cent, saying production costs had skyrocketed and the operatic art was in trouble, with shrinking audiences. Union members said such a radical move was unwarranted, given the Met's $2.8 million deficit on a budget of $326 million. The Met management also wanted to slash pensions and health care benefits.

Fifteen unions representing about 2,500 chorus singers, orchestra musicians, stagehands, carpenters and others had been negotiating, on and off, since February. Their contracts expired July 31. Three reached new agreements earlier his month— those representing ushers, security guards and cleaning staff.

With the lockout deadline approaching the 11th hour several weeks ago, a federal mediator stepped in to try to bring the two sides closer. Gelb's lockout deadline was extended four times while a financial analyst conducted a study of company accounts.

Orchestra and chorus members at the Met have made about $200,000 a year, including overtime costs that they blame in Gelb's production plans.

Hundreds of performers have rallied in front of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, wearing black T-shirts that read, "United for the Metropolitan Opera."

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