AGMA publishes letter that was sent to the CCO Board of Directors that went unanswered.
For anyone reading this who may not be aware, AGMA represents the singers (including apprentices), dancers, stage managers, stage directors, and other artists at Central City Opera (CCO). CCO was a founding company of AGMA; our institutions have worked together since the 1940s. The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between AGMA and CCO expired in August 2022, and we are in the midst of negotiating a new CBA.
At the moment, though, our path forward in negotiations is questionable due to the recent actions of CCO, under the current leadership of Pamela A. Pantos. To say it’s been a contentious experience would be an understatement. Several artists have come forward alleging disturbing conduct, ranging from public body shaming to sexual harassment, to overt threats of retaliation for union activity.
On November 21, we attempted to communicate directly and privately to CCO’s Board of Directors. The AGMA Bargaining Committee at CCO sent them a letter detailing what was happening, in an effort to get our relationship back on track. They were also filled in on this past summer when, prior to contract expiration, CCO management committed several violations of the CBA that resulted in the company not paying more than $12,000 to Apprentice Artists—early career solo singers who are some of the most vulnerable professionals in opera.
The email saw a 70% open rate, but, to date, not a single person on their board has responded.
So, today we are publicly sharing the letter the AGMA Bargaining Committee at CCO sent to the CCO Board of Directors.
We need your help amplifying this message that condemns CCO's actions. The AGMA Artists at the Company need public support. The opera world is a great community, and we need help boosting the signal within that community. So please forward this message to your network, and visit our social media channels, where we will be sharing infographics on this matter.
Tell Central City Opera:
- PAY your Artists!
- NEGOTIATE a fair contract!
- STOP union busting!
- CREATE a safe and equitable workplace!
We thank you in advance.
This letter was originally sent to the CCO Board of Directors on November 21.
Dear Members of the Central City Opera Board of Directors:
We are the Bargaining Committee for the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) at Central City Opera. We are artists who have worked at CCO, members of AGMA’s Board of Governors, or both, and we have joined together to advocate for our colleagues at CCO. We write to you today with worry and concern. Some of us do not have a direct relationship with CCO but are part of this Committee because, as detailed below, many of our fellow artists who rely on CCO for work or professional advancement are justifiably afraid of retaliation if they were to sit at the table themselves. We kindly ask that you allow us a few minutes of your valuable time today to raise urgent concerns.
For anyone who may not be aware, AGMA represents the singers, dancers, stage managers, stage directors, and other artists at CCO and other opera houses across the country. CCO was a founding company of AGMA; our institutions have worked together since the 1940s. The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between AGMA and CCO expired in August 2022, and we are in the midst of negotiating a new CBA.
We are communicating directly to CCO’s Board of Directors privately, in an effort to get our relationship back on track, before we consider taking our concerns public. Our goal is to sit down and respectfully negotiate a fair contract with CCO, as we have done for almost 80 years. At the moment, though, our path forward in negotiations is questionable due to the recent actions of CCO, under the current leadership of Pamela A. Pantos.
We understand that it has been a tumultuous period for CCO and that in recent months several long-tenured and respected members of CCO’s artistic team have resigned. We ask you to understand that what you might have heard already, and what we tell you today, are not just rumors.
In the last three weeks alone, several artists have come forward detailing disturbing conduct, ranging from public body shaming to sexual harassment, to overt threats of retaliation for union activity. Out of respect and concern for the artists who have shared these accounts with us, we will not detail them here, but we are open to discussing the conduct with CCO’s Board of Directors under an appropriate agreement that guarantees the confidentiality and protection of the targets of this abuse.
So, how did we get here?
This summer, prior to contract expiration, CCO management committed several violations of the CBA that resulted in the company not paying more than $12,000 to Apprentice Artists. While the violations were a concern, they were not something out of the ordinary or an occurrence we felt put our relationship in jeopardy. Mistakes happen, and AGMA has historically been able to resolve these kinds of issues amicably, without resorting to formal legal proceedings. When AGMA representatives attempted to discuss the matter with CCO management, they refused to meaningfully engage with our concerns and then took the position that, because the contract expired, we could not pursue the matter through arbitration. We believe this assertion to be incorrect as a matter of law, as the violations themselves occurred before the contract expired. AGMA has filed for arbitration to secure this compensation for our members.
It is important to explain that these contract violations harmed CCO’s Apprentice Artists (also referred to as Emerging/Young Artists)—early career solo singers who are some of the most vulnerable professionals in opera. Whether intentional or not, the failure to follow the CBA and the subsequent refusal to pay what is owed is exploitative of this remarkable but vulnerable group of singers. AGMA has a responsibility to stand up for these amazing artists in the workplace, which is why we have filed for arbitration. We believe that is what led us here. And, unfortunately, the issues have only escalated as we have moved into bargaining.
You may know that CCO has retained Littler Mendelson P.C., a notorious union-busting law firm currently engaged by Starbucks to crush their ongoing unionization effort, to represent it in negotiations. Our first day of bargaining was on November 1 and it was immediately made clear that CCO management drafted proposals in a transparent attempt to destroy the AGMA bargaining unit at CCO, in a bid to make Artists at CCO less empowered and less secure.
Every member of our committee has served in previous negotiations for AGMA. We are no strangers to tough and sometimes difficult negotiations. But we cannot believe the unprecedented and draconian proposals put forth by CCO, including:
- Removing anti-sexual harassment language from our CBA and the required annual anti-harassment training.
- Eliminating provisions that guarantee that CCO will not discriminate against any AGMA member in the workplace for taking part in union activities.
- Dramatically reducing AGMA’s bargaining unit by removing our ability to represent anyone working for CCO outside of its summer season or outside of its main performance venue.
- Excluding whole categories of artists who have for decades been covered by the contract.
- A management rights clause that would allow CCO to ignore “pay-or-play”—the provision that makes AGMA contracts guaranteed and that exists in every single one of AGMA’s more than 70 CBAs across the country—for all Artists. This proposal would allow CCO to cancel contracts, without compensation to the artist, at its discretion, something that cannot happen at any other AGMA house.
And the conduct of CCO management at the bargaining table has been just as disappointing as the substance of the proposals, if not more so. To give just one example—putting aside countless instances of aggressive or rude behavior—CCO management initially reacted negatively to AGMA’s proposal to protect artists from morally unacceptable roles, including the elimination of blackface and allowing artists to decline roles with nudity. Almost every other AGMA opera company has approached these types of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) proposals in a collaborative spirit.
Perhaps most concerning, CCO has demanded in a recent information request that AGMA identify anyone who has complained of retaliation, even though these individuals have elected to remain anonymous to avoid unwanted consequences at work. It has also insisted that only recent CCO artists can serve on AGMA’s negotiating committee. These demands underscore the vulnerable position of artists under current CCO management. We wish it were not the case, but artists—including artists who have performed at CCO in recent seasons and hope to again in the near future—have no confidence that hiring decisions for upcoming productions will be free of retaliation or discrimination under current management.
Taken together, CCO’s proposals and actions have forced us to conclude that, under the leadership of Ms. Pantos, CCO management is attempting to target and silence our industry’s most marginalized artists. We think this demonstrates rather clearly why so many of our colleagues are afraid to participate openly in bargaining. It is for this reason that our Committee for these negotiations is comprised of AGMA Artists who are well-established in our careers and do not rely on CCO for employment or advancement; we are at the table because CCO management has made it unsafe for others to be there instead.
We imagine that most of what we write may be news to you. We strongly believe that CCO’s Board of Directors would not condone the actions taken by management so far. Central City Opera is one of AGMA’s oldest signatory companies. It is a jewel of the opera world and a pillar of the local Colorado and Rocky Mountain Arts community. A number of us, as well as many successful artists in our industry had their start at CCO.
We respect the institution so much and consider it a leader in producing artists that continue to flourish and we want nothing more than to see it thrive for the sake of the next generations of artists. Our attempt to reach the Board of Directors is not to tear you down as a group or as individuals, but to fill in potential gaps of information. We believe a swift change in approach is needed at your institution in order to ensure its storied legacy as the country’s fifth oldest opera house and one of its leading and most-celebrated training programs is upheld.
We believe it is not too late for AGMA and CCO to reestablish the partnership that has served both AGMA artists and CCO so well for the better part of a century. We have no desire for a public dispute or airing of grievances. We write to you directly, as CCO’s governing body, because we no longer believe we can accomplish this with the current CCO management under Ms. Pantos. We need your help and intervention on behalf of both CCO and the artists who make CCO great.
We stand in solidarity with the artists at CCO, but we also advocate for the wellness and success of Central City Opera, one of the most important and special opera companies in America.
Thank you for your time. You can reach us directly in writing by emailing CCOCommittee@musicalartists.org. We hope to hear from you soon.
The CCO AGMA Bargaining Committee