Whistleblowers Allege Secrecy At AGMA, Safety Of Highly effective : NPR


A 1939 portrait of opera singer Lawrence Tibbett, the co-founder and first president of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA).

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Fairfax Media/Getty Pictures

A 1939 portrait of opera singer Lawrence Tibbett, the co-founder and first president of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA).

Fairfax Media/Getty Pictures

The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) represents about 7,000 performing artists throughout the U.S. For greater than 80 years, it has been the union for refrain singers, soloists, ballet dancers, manufacturing employees and different performers at lots of the nation’s main arts establishments. Signatory corporations embody the Metropolitan Opera, American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet and Washington Nationwide Opera. However critics say that some members of the union’s present management have cultivated a tradition of secrecy which raises questions on monetary and employment preparations which can be at odds with the wants of the artists it represents.

Specifically, whistleblowers level to a serious deliberate Manhattan actual property deal that would drain the union of as a lot as two-thirds of its internet property throughout what has grow to be a financially difficult interval; a secretive take care of the opera star Plácido Domingo, which collapsed earlier this 12 months; and a tradition during which, they are saying, a paid place seems to have been created for one of many union’s former volunteer leaders.

AGMA’s nationwide govt director, Leonard Egert, and its president, Raymond Menard, strongly dispute all of those allegations.

Paperwork obtained by NPR present that since at the very least November 2019, AGMA has been planning to buy over 12,000 sq. ft of apartment house in Manhattan’s Flower District, at 305 seventh Avenue. In accordance with union paperwork obtained by NPR, the price of the actual property was initially set at $9.four million — roughly two-thirds of AGMA’s internet property, which, as of its 2018 tax filings stood at simply over $15 million in whole. The union at the moment rents its workplace house and officers haven’t alerted the final membership to this deliberate buy, which is scheduled to shut on the finish of this month.

In an interview performed Thursday with Egert and Menard, Egert mentioned that the dimensions of the deal had shrunk throughout the pandemic; the sq. footage was down to 1 ground, fairly than the initially deliberate buy of 1.three flooring. He declined to say what the renegotiated buy worth was, however mentioned that the brand new worth was commensurate with the smaller house.

The paperwork obtained by NPR associated to the deliberate buy embody a November 2019 movement from AGMA’s govt council and its finance and funds committee presenting the thought to the union’s 75-member volunteer board of governors, in addition to the minutes from an AGMA board of governors’ assembly held on Nov. 18.

In accordance with the November 2019 movement, union executives themselves estimated that this actual property deal would chop AGMA’s monetary reserves down to simply $four to $5 million. Moreover, they famous that the union might want to make investments extra money in constructing out the house as places of work, buying tools and furnishings, in addition to different bills.

Egert and Menard declined to say how a lot money could be left within the union’s reserves after the acquisition, however Menard mentioned that it could be about two years’ price of reserves — way more, he asserted, than that of comparably sized unions.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the overwhelming majority of AGMA’s membership has been both utterly out of labor or severely underemployed, as a consequence of ongoing closures at performing arts venues and organizations throughout the U.S. The union’s reserves are constructed on member dues which, in flip, are primarily based on members’ incomes. As Menard wrote in a Labor Day 2020 message to the membership: “We had been the primary to lose our jobs, and can seemingly be the final to return to work.”

Whereas Egert agrees that there will definitely be a lack of membership income on this fiscal 12 months, he factors to very current and ongoing negotiations with some signatory corporations as an encouraging signal. “We’re within the means of negotiating compensation and advantages,” Egert says. “Not for full efficiency seasons, after all, however for partial seasons, for continued medical health insurance, and so forth.”

AGMA additionally intends to solicit tenants for the brand new house — although as of August, fewer than 10% of staff in New York had been again to company places of work, and a survey of main employers in New York Metropolis revealed that greater than 1 / 4 of these corporations don’t but have a timeline for returning to the workplace. The union additionally hopes to herald its retirement and well being funds, which at the moment preserve separate places of work.

Egert notes, “The union’s structure stipulates that we’re headquartered in Manhattan,” and that he anticipates that workers will be capable to return to the workplace sooner or later.

He provides that any allegations of monetary mismanagement are “wildly off the mark,” saying that AGMA is in a “nice” monetary place proper now due to its present and up to date management.

Nevertheless, on the November board of governors’ assembly, two sources who had been current inform NPR that a number of of the union’s elected officers questioned the monetary knowledge of the deal — effectively earlier than the onset of the coronavirus pandemic — however their considerations had been reportedly brushed apart.

These discussions should not detailed within the assembly minutes. However Egert says that the deal was accredited “virtually unanimously” by the board of governors, and that if the union had been to again out, it could lose $1 million per a pre-COVID-19 settlement with the sellers.

“I absolutely acknowledge that there was debate and disagreement” inside the board of governors, Egert observes, “however individuals nonetheless voted overwhelmingly in favor. Individuals can complain on reflection, however we went by way of the total course of.”

Along with the deliberate apartment buy, the union’s critics level again to a scuttled deal between AGMA and disgraced opera star Plácido Domingo, who has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by 21 girls.

In February, NPR reported that AGMA had tried quietly to rearrange a $500,000 settlement between Domingo and the union, after the union accomplished its personal investigation into the allegations towards the singer.

The deal fell aside after The Related Press printed some leaked particulars from the investigators’ findings. A now-former senior elected official at AGMA, baritone singer Samuel Schultz, confirmed that he was the supply behind the AP’s reporting, and that he was one of many sources in NPR’s reporting as effectively. (Schultz resigned from his AGMA place after he got here ahead as a whistleblower.)

In a Feb. 24, 2020 assembly, AGMA’s board of governors was offered with the outcomes of the union’s Domingo investigation, which concluded that the well-known singer “had, the truth is, engaged in inappropriate exercise, starting from flirtation to sexual advances, in and outdoors of the office.” On the identical assembly, in accordance with minutes which NPR has obtained, the union’s govt director, Leonard Egert, “offered a sequence of proposed measures” that the union would take towards Domingo.

In accordance with the minutes, these measures included an unspecified effective, a “prolonged” suspension from the union, obligatory coaching or teaching (ostensibly for Domingo), and a “honest” public apology. (The subsequent day, Domingo did supply a public apology however walked it again two days later.)

In accordance with NPR’s sources, who had been current at that assembly, nonetheless, AGMA’s board of governors was not knowledgeable that the union and Domingo’s representatives had already negotiated that settlement deal. Egert says that the sources appear to have basically misunderstood the character of the presentation, including: “I used to be not going to trip between the Domingo’s representatives and the board, by way of all of the machinations.”

As a substitute, he says, union negotiators offered to the board what they perceived because the final, finest settlement that the singer and his attorneys would settle for.

One of many AGMA negotiators was Raymond Menard, the union’s president. In accordance with each of NPR’s sources who had been current at that assembly, Menard took pains to inform the governing board that he was “personally concerned” within the negotiations.

These sources contend that Menard had a direct battle of curiosity within the Domingo settlement discussions. Menard’s day job is as manufacturing stage supervisor of the Metropolitan Opera — the place he has labored since 1987 and the place he has incessantly labored with Domingo, who sang on the Met for 51 consecutive years and was one of many home’s most bankable stars.

Menard says he doesn’t recall making that particular assertion to the board. Egert notes, nonetheless, that he invited Menard to be a part of a convention name with Domingo’s representatives throughout the negotiations.

Egert says, “There was no battle of curiosity. Ray [Menard] serves twin capabilities: one because the union president, and one in his position on the Met.” He contends that Menard was a part of the Domingo dialogue absolutely as an AGMA consultant, whom Egert invited as a way to have one other union voice current.

Certainly one of NPR’s sources says that, on the presentation of the proposed Domingo settlement, the board didn’t notice that union executives deliberate to withhold from the general public even such fundamental investigation particulars as because the variety of alleged incidents of inappropriate habits or the years they spanned. That withholding of data would appear to guard Domingo, an enormously influential pressure inside the opera world, greater than the alleged victims and witnesses.

Egert says he cannot bear in mind if he laid out in that presentation to the board that completely no particulars could be shared, however he says the subject did come up in varied committee conferences. As he mentioned to NPR in February, Egert contends that offering any particulars may pinpoint the accusers’ and witnesses’ identities.

However on reflection, Egert and Menard say, they really feel it was significantly clever to withhold particulars of the investigation’s findings from the board of governors, given the variety of leaks to NPR and different media shops, together with the AP. “Individuals wish to learn salacious stuff,” Menard provides.

NPR’s sources describe this secretiveness as “corrupt” — and likewise as unsurprising inside the union’s tradition, which they are saying is now constructed upon defending its strongest members — and defending its personal strongest workers and officers. They level to a different incident as illustration: In Feb. 2019, the union’s former volunteer president, James Odom, resigned from that place after 12 years, solely to imagine a newly created paid position at AGMA as its Midwest enterprise consultant.

AGMA mentioned that Odom was not obtainable for an interview, citing his participation in ongoing negotiations between the union and a signatory firm. However Egert strongly disputes NPR’s nameless sources, saying that Odom’s hiring was half of a bigger enlargement and reorganization of AGMA’s workers, which included the creation of three new regional positions throughout the nation, and that the job wasn’t created for Odom.

“I canvassed the [Midwest] space for labor professionals,” Egert asserts. “Jimmy [Odom] was the proper candidate — he was probably the most certified and uniquely skilled individual. He has handled our membership for 40 years, and he is negotiated for many years. And his hiring went by way of our personnel committee as effectively.”


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