President Jimmy Carter last night called for a settlement in the Metropolitian Opera labor dispute, three days after the Met announced the cancellation of its 1980-'81 season.
Following the president's call, both sides in the dispute agreet to meet for agreed to meet for a negotiating session at 2 p.m. tomorrow, according to musicians' attorney I. Philip Sipser.
In a telegram sent to both the Met and leaders of its 93-member orchestra -- who are at an impasse as a result of the musicians' demands for a reduction in their work week -- the president asked both sides to resume negotiations.
"I am personally concerned . . . several thousand employes will be without work, and thousands of others will be adversely affected . . . I ask the parties to these negotiations to reassess their positions," the president said. In urging a resumption of the bargaining, he referred to all 17 unions whose contracts with the Met have expired.
The president's cable arrived some hours after a midday press conference in which Spipser and the president of the New York Local of the American Federation of Musicians, Max Arons, said they would not accept the Met's announced cancellation. After calling for the president to intervene in the dispute, they effectively declared war on the Met's administration, calling for the resignation of Met executive director Anthony A. Bliss, or for his removal by the New York state attorney general or the courts if he refuses to voluntarily withdraw.
The musicians said they were considering legal action to remove Bliss on the ground he has violated his fiduciary obligations to the opera company as the head of a public charity under New York State law. On the same ground, the musicians said they would appeal to the Internal Revenue Service to have the Met's tax-exempt status revoked.
They also threatened to ask the National Endownment for the Arts and private foundations to rescind grants made to the Met, because of the cancellation of the season.
Bliss -- who is one of the most highly regarded and respected executives in the culture industry, and who has served on the Met's board since 1949 -- acknowledged his fiduciary obligation during a press conference on Monday, when he said he had exercised it in recommending to the Met's board of managing directors that the season be canceled. Most of the board and the Met's executive committee had voted to cancel the season, Bliss said.
Of the charge of fiduciary malfeasance, Bliss said yesterday afternoon, "I don't even feel it's worth responding to." The executive, who is an attorney, said he will not resign and that his attorneys have told him he is in no jeopardy.
"There is nothing that I have done that has not been approved in advance," he said, adding that as a ranking official of the Met "I'm the prime target, and it'll get worse. People become irrational in such a bitter labor dispute.
"The season is over. I don't see any way of recouping it. The point of no return is here," he said.
President Carter yesterday directed Wayne horvitz, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, to seek a resumption in the negotiations and both sides then agreed to meet tomorrow. Horvitz had entered the dispute last month after canceled rehearsals and a New York State mediator had failed to budge either side. Horvitz quickly won the confidence of both sides, according to informed sources. And one source suggested that given more time, Horvitz might find a face-saving compromise to allow the parties to settle.
Horvitz, however, said that an earlier intervention would not have enabled him to effect a settlement.
Last night, despite the musicians' vow that they would not resume bargaining until the Met made some significant concessions on their demand for a four-performance work week, their attorney confirmed "the request of the president will be honored."
The musicians now claim they are willing to totally finance the cost of such a four-performance arrangement by giving back an appropriate amount of an already implicitly agreed-to wage settlement. But the Met's Bliss stated "even if they've found a way to do it for nothing, we couldn't do it within the context of this opera house," because of artistic problems.
In 1961, during a bitter Met Versus musicians labor dispute, President John F. Kennedy interceded. Then-Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg arbitrated the dispute and that season progressed as scheduled.