Central City Opera and its performers are in a labor dispute alleging withheld payments, body shaming and sexual harassment

Courtesy of Central City Opera by Jim Havey
Central City Opera House.

One of Colorado’s premiere arts organizations is ending the year amid a labor dispute with the union representing the artists. 

Founded in 1932, Central City Opera is one of the oldest opera companies in the United States. Now the company is in a bitter dispute with the labor union representing its performers, The American Guild of Musical Artists, which was founded in 1936. That long relationship is being put to the test with accusations that include charges of withheld artist payments, refusals to bargain in good faith, body shaming, sexual harassment, and other threats. Both entities have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

A key point in the pay dispute is a claim by the Opera company of jurisdiction over performance venue. 

Heather Miller, co-chair of the board of directors for the Opera, said the current agreement is limited to performances on the main stage at the Central City Opera House. “I think an important piece of this story that is being lost, or glossed over, [is that] it currently covers all artists and production, people who are members of AGMA when they are on the Central City Opera stage.” 

Miller said the agreement doesn’t include performances in the summer season or the festival season — those that take place away from the main stage.

Sam Wheeler, AGMA’s National Executive Director, said he sees it differently.

“We've had a collective bargaining agreement with Central City Opera since the 1940s. They were one of AGMA’s founding companies. It's a relationship that we really value as a labor union. Central City Opera is an important part of the opera industry in the opera community in the United States,” Wheeler said. “Over the course of the summer, we believe that there were several documented violations of our collective bargaining agreement that resulted in a little more than $12,000 that hasn't been paid to a group of our artists — mostly apprentice artists who were early career solo singers.”

Wheeler said the Central City Opera's assertion that AGMA and the performers’ agreement with the Opera doesn’t cover this work is without merit and that their collective bargaining agreement is clear. “ We cover all artists employed under our covered … categories employed by Central City Opera,” Wheeler said.

Central City Opera disputes the accusations and says they are investigating. 

“We are, again, continuing to negotiate in good faith, and we're asking that they do the same,” said Miller, the co-chair of the board for the Opera.

The sides are scheduled to meet again in January to try to come to an agreement.