When Conservatives Make Fools of Themselves – Exhibit A

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WARNINGThis post contains some of the most beautiful music there ever was.

Monday was a perfect example of idiot conservatives making idiots of themselves.  No wonder we sometimes have a bad reputation.  I am beginning to suspect some of it is richly deserved.

EXHIBIT #1:  NYC Stagehands

Upfront: The Pink Flamingo does not approve of unions.  I think they are inflationary, and basically criminal.  I also am well aware what stage hands do at the Metropolitan Opera.  Their job is highly technical, critical, and there would be no show without them.  It is that simple.  In a world where the stars sign autographs and pose for photos, grace the cover of multi-national publications, there would be no show without the stage-hand.

The Pink Flamingo is beginning to wonder what kind of tea these partiers are drinking.  If they were eating “brownies” we know what is in them.  These folks are not quite sober or rational.  It all began with an article in the NYTimes about union wages in NYC for stagehands at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.  Naturally the far right is using it as a way to pound the unions.

“…What they do is essential but unremarkable. Turns out that it is remarkably well-paid, however. Would you believe $422,599 a year? Plus $107,445 in benefits and deferred compensation?…Four other guys, two of them carpenters, two electricians, are paid somewhat lesser amounts, ranging down to $327,257, plus $76,459 in benefits and deferred compensation, for the junior member of the team, John Goodson, an electrician…. Gillinson, who doubles as artistic director, was paid $946,581, nearly twice as much as O’Connell, the props manager, but not out of line for top arts executives in Manhattan.

The Carnegie stagehands’ pay was something else again, but not, as it turns out, unique. At Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, the average stagehand salary and benefits package is $290,000 a year….

Across the plaza at the Metropolitan Opera, a spokesman said stagehands rarely broke into the top-five category. But a couple of years ago, one did. The props master, James Blumenfeld, got $334,000 at that time, including some vacation back pay….That means that a substantial portion of the sums we pay for tickets is going for stagehand pay, even as we are asked to increase contributions to make up for recession deficits.

Sir Clive Gillinson, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II four years ago, says Carnegie Hall’s five high-paid stagehands are the only permanent stagehands the building has. Hiring part-timers on a permanent basis is impractical, he says, because the number and types of productions cannot be predicted from year to year.

He also maintains that it would be no less expensive to hire other stagehands to fill in as needed for the permanent five. The work has to be done, for three stages, with 800 events a season, and it requires expertise and experience.

The five men practically live in the building in season, often working from 8 a.m. to past midnight. Their average workweek is 80 hours. After 40 hours, the pay goes up to time-and-a-half, then to double or triple time. They get extra pay for recordings made in the hall.

However, given the accommodations that members of other unions are making in the recession, on both sides of the Hudson and nationally, it would seem that the stages of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center could be adequately served by men paid less than $300,000 to $500,000 a year….”

Take Hyscience (please) which is usually fairly rational.  When those Long Island Iced Teas are circulated… well?

Hyscience

While the Metropolitan Opera does receive some funding from NYC, its principle funds come from the endowment, ticket sales, and private donations.   Hyscience thinks stage hands aren’t worth what they are being paid in NYC.  This following is the story of one of them – Joe Volpe:

“…Named general manager in 1990, Joe Volpe, who began work at the Met in 1964 as an apprentice carpenter, led the Metropolitan Opera into a new century. Under his watch the Met strengthened its position, financially and artistically, at a time when other major opera companies around the world were struggling. Thus, Volpe became the most powerful man in opera, and his job the most coveted. When Lincoln Center began to make plans for a $1.5 billion renovation, Volpe and the Metropolitan Opera Association were in a position in January 2001 to withdraw from the project and begin their own renovation plans, which would include expanding the Met’s lobby. Despite being the largest and richest occupant, contributing 30 percent of Lincoln Center’s shared operating costs (and receiving 30 percent of common revenues), the Metropolitan Opera had no more say in the renovations than the smallest of the Center’s 12 constituent groups. Volpe’s surprise notice of resignation to Lincoln Center came just a week after the city committed $240 million to the project. Although the relationship between the Met and Lincoln Center had been occasionally contentious over the years, a 99-year lease would likely insure that the two parties would work out the details over the renovations. In any case, the Metropolitan Opera Association had reached a mature enough state to fund whatever work that needed to be done. Its financial outlook, at least in the near term, appeared quite solid….”

Ahearn’s article is a bit disgusting and is so very patronizing.  Yes, it’s a heck of a lot of money, but people are allowed to make money.  They are making doctor money.  So what?  They do the electrical wiring, computer wiring, sound, electronics, microphones, not to mention stage setting.  They  may not have Ivy League diplomas on their walls, but I suspect their jobs are just as critical as some number’s cruncher on Wall Street.

Over the years The Pink Flamingo had donated a nice amount to the Metropolitan Opera.  I know a little about how it works and what is involved in keeping the company active.  I am a huge fan of the Met.  When the far right minions at Hyscience imply that the men and women who work as stagehands at the Met are not worth the union pay the get, I’m sorry, it is yet another case of Conservatives Making Fools of Themselves!

This is the PRIMARY way the Met establishes its funding:

“…The Metropolitan Opera could find itself the unexpected beneficiary of a multimillion-dollar gift under the unusual terms of a Washington, D.C., heiress’s donation, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Betty Brown Casey’s donations to the Washington National Opera’s endowment came with a stipulation: Should that company fail to remain independent, the funds would be rescinded—and transferred to the Met.

That day could be on the horizon: The National Opera is in merger talks with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.

According to a person familiar with the matter, donations made by Mrs. Casey, the National Opera’s life chairman, constitute between one-half and two-thirds of the National Opera’s total endowment, which was $30.5 million at the end of its 2009 fiscal year. That would make the amount of the Met’s potential windfall between $15 million and $20 million.

A lawyer for Mrs. Casey, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., referring to the opera, said: “I’m confident that they will abide by their written agreements.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the National Opera reiterated the sentiment. “Washington National Opera is grateful for the generosity of all of its donors, and abides by all terms related to all gifts,” said Michelle Pendoley.

Kennedy Center spokesman John Dow said he was unaware of any stipulations, and declined to comment further.

Through a spokesman, the general manager of the Met, Peter Gelb, declined to comment. The Met’s endowment at the end of fiscal year 2009 totaled $247 million, and the gift—if transferred—would represent a much-needed injection of funding for the company, which has been hammered by the recession. Its net assets declined 38% in the 2009 fiscal year….”

Hyscience refers to a Beltway Confidential piece.

Beltway Confidential

There is a bottom line here.  Without the much maligned stage-hand none of the above music would even be possible.  If you ask this opera fan, they are worth every cent.  Without the stagehand who is allegedly paid too much, there would be no Metropolitan Opera.  Without the Met there would be less beauty in the world.

The following clips all originate at the Met from live performances.  If there were no stagehands, the greatest, most magnificent voice there ever was would not have been able to produce this …. magnificence. (NOTE:  The above clip from Tosca is NOT from the Met.  Because it is my favorite piece of opera, I left it).

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8 thoughts on “When Conservatives Make Fools of Themselves – Exhibit A

  1. As I wrote in reply to your comment at Hyscience:

    “Obviously” you either missed the entire point of the post – unions are inflationary, are counter to free enterprise, and distort the value of labor (when unions are involved … fair wages for an honest day’s labor are not the indicator for a wage… as is also true for public sector unions that are breaking the country), or you are simply leaping to a conclusion for the sole purpose of railing against conservatives … more likely the latter, given your post titled “When Conservatives Make Fools of Themselves – Exhibit A”

    While I’ll tactfully and kindly refrain from addressing the character and content of your post, and the mindset it betrays, I will ask that you notice that nothing was mentioned in the Hyscience post that indicated that some stage hands weren’t highly skilled. On the other hand, a highly trained radiation therapist, for example, makes approximately $60,000/year in New York … and people’s lives rest in their hands, as in the case of a PhD immunopharmacologist / research scientist like myself … that averaged only $180,000 a year before retirement.

    In other words, skilled they may be, $290,000 for a stage hand does indeed seem a bit inordinate, and were it not for the union, such a disconnect between actual value and wage would not occur.

    And to further make my point – note that a non-union stage hand in Atlanta makes $17,946, a non-union stage hand in New York makes $18,493, and a non-union stage hand in Boston makes $20,927 (reference)

    As the ole saying goes … “nuff said.”

    To which I’ll add that the tone of the Pink Flamingo post is a bit surprising, given that PF and Hyscience have some history of shared respectful discourse in the past.

  2. Have you ever been to the Metropolitan Opera? Might I suggest you attend an opera at the Met, then come back and tell me I am wrong.

    You obviously did not read what I wrote at the beginning of the article:

    “Upfront: The Pink Flamingo does not approve of unions. I think they are inflationary, and basically criminal. I also am well aware what stage hands do at the Metropolitan Opera. Their job is highly technical, critical, and there would be no show without them. It is that simple. In a world where the stars sign autographs and pose for photos, grace the cover of multi-national publications, there would be no show without the stage-hand.”

    You picked a losing argument on this one. I think that is what shocked me. I agree 100% that unions are evil and must be destroyed. BUT – I find the attack on the stagehands who work at the Met is just plain ill informed.

    SJR

  3. Once again, I repeat … “nothing was mentioned in the Hyscience post that indicated that some stage hands weren’t highly skilled” … nor implied; what was implied was merely that for what they do, as compared with non union wages for the same job … or with other jobs requiring much greater education and skill … the stagehands at the Met are at the very least … a bit overpaid.

    Your defense of stagehands at the Met is admirable, I’m sure, but perhaps just a bit over the proverbial shark. After all, there are doctors in NY that don’t make as much and it would be quite difficult to argue that stagehands at the Met are more skilled than physicians (according to http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/bizfinance/finance/features/4086/… a Cardiothoracic surgeon in NYC can earn as little as $200,000, and an OB/GYN starts at around $135,000.

    In other words, the Met is a cool place and all, and the stagehands there surely must be awesome, but $290,000 a year is a log of awesomeness … and unlikely attainable without the help of unions – which was the point in the first place – not the awesomeness of those “highly skilled” awesome stagehands.

    Oh, and by the way… you’ve got me … I’ve never been to the Met. I’m strictly a Nashville kind of guy – ergo what the hell do I know, anyway.

  4. You aren’t getting this.
    1. NYC is a heck of a lot more expensive to live in than Nashville. If these same people were in Nashville, I would expect them to earn far less. You MUST factor in the costs for the city.

    2. I’m not going to go to a physician in NYC who makes just $200,000 because they would be the dregs of the medical profession.

    3. What if you substitute the term “guild” for union. These are highly skilled people who would be making big bucks as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. even in Nashville.

    4. Since you do not know what they do, you are at a disadvantage. The prop master makes upward of $400,000. Every opera has its own staging and props, which are stored in warehouses across the river in New Jersey. Each little piece is numbered, inventoried and put in a certain place. Each act of an opera will have its own tractor-trailer moving truck bringing the props into Lincoln Center. Each scene is built, on a daily basis – with a stage system that is one of the finest in the world. The stages are build and lifted into place or the stage will revolve and another set will be set in. The sets must be wired. They must be safely put into place. The final staging must be put into place in 20 minutes. These men and women train for it. You won’t complain about people making this much for the movies – same thing.

    5. “Awesomeness” doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t get top of the line people hired. The Metropolitan Opera is the finest opera house and theatrical facility in the world. Only the best of the best work there. The people who work there expect to make more. It’s like the big leagues of theater and music. The Grand Old Opry can’t even begin to compare. In a way your “Nashville” anti-elite snobbery is showing.

    6. ALL theater is unionized. The dirty little secret is all those conservative talking heads on the radio and on FOX are members of unions – even Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. There is a union scale they make. The unions that deal with things like the Met are not the same thing as unions that are for auto workers, teachers, etc.

    7. Open your eyes. Not all of the world is tea party black and white oh how I love Glenn Beck and worship Rush Limbaugh. There is more to the world than Nashville, country music, and drinking tea. The more I see of this libertarian tendency, the less I like it. In other words, no one is to make real money but people who are highly educated and have the tea party seal of approval.

    8. What is wrong with making $290,000 a year? I gather it is okay for a ball payer to make a million dollars a minute because they are so totally awesome as they spit, chew, and scratch. If they can make such big bucks, why not a stage-hand? Or, is the problem that because of the job title, you expect them not to be allowed to make money?

    9. I started looking up salaries at the Grand Old Opry. They are not published. It is a corporation on the NYSE. The Metropolitan Opera is a non-profit organization. It always has been. It if funded by endowments. There are no Conrad Twits and Travis Blacks, or what ever the names of country music people are, in opera. It does not appeal to the masses. Now that Pavarotti is gone, there is no one superstar to bring in huge money. It is a niche. It relies on donations from those country club elites the far right is now being told to hate.

    10. Ticket prices for the Met are high. I’ve not been since I moved to NM because I refuse to fly. Where I once had season tickets, the individual prices are around $195 per ticket. Fifteen years ago those same tickets were anywhere from $90 – $150, so that’s not bad.

    I have no intention of ever going to a Nashville production. I do not like country music. I appreciate the work that goes into it, but I am well aware of the fact that costuming for a Verdi opera is far more extensive than a pair of blue jeans and a t-shirt. Sorry, but maybe I am sounding like a snob. I get tired of people bashing opera.

    SJR

    ADDITIONAL: I will bet my toy poodle, Ronald Rumsfeld Reagan Reidhead, that the stage hands at the Grand Old Opry are union, and are getting union scale for where they live.

  5. Perhaps we can take it then that you really, really, really, do love the Met, that unions are really cool, that the Met’s stagehands are super awesome … ad nauseum, and simply leave it at that.

    Oh, and your little dig at the Tea Party, conservatives in general, etc. … well, that’s cool too.

    Geez … must have touched some kind of nerve, or something, given so much yack over a little comment about stagehands making $290K a year. Who would’a guessed!

    God forbid we’d actually be discoursing over something more serious … we’d have to be passing out the Diazepam.

    Hope 2011 is a better year for you … the Met … and yes, those awesome, much adored, highly skilled stagehands.

  6. You really did not read what I wrote, did you? I stated that you picked the wrong argument. I detest unions as much as I detest the tea parties – for different reasons. Tea Partiers have a tendency to see things only their way, and attempt to ridicule and belittle anyone who disagrees with them.

    You might want to go back and read the original column that started this. The author was blaming the unions for high ticket prices at Carnegie Hall. Unfortunately his argument is hollow for several reasons.

    You might want to read my post tomorrow morning. I did a little homework. As always, there is a losertarian scam attached to the original story.

    SJR

  7. I’ve had some really heated discussions with my business partner (who is a Tory and a lot more conservative than most conservatives as in Republican not Losertarian) about Unions.

    I can understand why he dislikes them as Unions nearly destroyed Great Britain in Maggie’s day, but this is what I tell him and I suppose it shows how “independent” I really am:

    Unions are the reasons we have 40 hour weeks instead of sun up to sun down, 6 day working hours. They are the reasons for time and a half, vacations, holidays, safer work conditions…and yes, believe it or not, the great economic strength of this nation.

    What????

    You heard me. Before the unions, most of the wealth belonged to 10% of the nation. When the unions forced the “pie” to be shared, all of a sudden, instead of 1 out of 10 being able to afford washing machines and refrigs, now 7 out of 10 needed it. The rich got richer AND more jobs were created, and those people were able to afford items which meant more companies and more jobs and so forth.

    Because some guy out there risked THEIR livelihood, their families, their safety that we have the things that we consider “rights”. I’m not sure how many today would be willing to do such a thing.

    Yes, I KNOW. Unions are like Jesse Jackson, their time and need is fairly done. The fight has been fought and mostly won and there is only so much more any cause can ask before it becomes a demand; only so big before no one can afford to buy our “pie”.

    But before we attack Unions, let us remember as we do Martin Luther King, and give credit for those who fought for what we take so granted for. If we are prepared to dismantle unions, then we must also prepare for a time when the leverage of the wealthy will also dismantle work conditions, wages, and holidays–and there will be no one willing to risk it all to stop them.

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