Labor Pains: A Survey

By Carman, Joseph | Dance Magazine, May 2005 | Go to article overview

Labor Pains: A Survey


Carman, Joseph, Dance Magazine


As dancers become more concerned with their working conditions, salary inequities, and contracted weeks of work, unions have played an important role in negotiating and resolving disputes between management and dancers. Several issues have cropped up in recent months.

* In December, all 21 members of non-union Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico walked out of scheduled performances of The Nutcracker because of unpaid salaries and the management's refusal to open its books. The company contacted four laid-off members of Dance Theatre of Harlem--Dionne Figgins, Naimah Willoughby, Mark Burns, and Ebony Haswell--to replace dancers in principal roles. According to Figgins, a representative from The American Guild of Musical Artists advised them not to go, only because, as AGMA members, the union could not protect them in a non-union environment. During The Nutcracker engagement, which the DTH dancers accepted, Alan Gordon, the executive director of AGMA, sent a letter to Ballet Concierto, explaining that because the American National Labor Relations Act applies to non-union groups, the DTH dancers would be considered strikebreakers. Will the dancers be penalized? "The real answer is probably no, because I think they learned it was the wrong thing to do," said Gordon.

However, in a letter to Gordon, the four DTH dancers contended that non-union dancers cannot strike, and that accepting work during the company's walkout did not violate AGMA rules.

* The Nutcracker posed a different problem for the Boston Ballet. The loss of the 3,600-seat Wang Center (to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular), left the company with the 1,700-seat Colonial Theatre as its only option. Due to the shortfall in Nutcracker income, all non-unionized staff agreed to take a temporary salary cut through June. According to executive director Valerie Wilder, the dancers were also approached to pare expenses in the short run. The company has secured the refurbished Boston Opera House for the next three Nutcracker seasons. "I look at this as a speed bump along the way," said Wilder, who expects a better 2005-06 fiscal year outlook.

* In January, AGMA filed a petition on behalf of the 20 dancers of the Washington Ballet with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking an election to decide on unionization. …

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