Helene

"Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear"

74 posts in this topic

I was focused on union issues.....

Very interesting question.

I believe most dancers operate as independent contractors with the ballet company as their "client" (I am nearly certain that this is true for most ballet teachers and ballet schools). So for at least those dancers who are structured as independent contractors (getting 1099s), what exactly is their relationship to the union? Is the union a sort of "professional association"? Does the ballet company negotiate a contract with the union such that the company agrees to treat all the independent contractors in a certain way? Are the independent contracting dancers members of this professional association (i.e., union), or is the union separate from the dancers? Do the independent contractor dancers pay "union dues", or do they in some other way make contributions to the union?

Clearly in the world of dance, these "employment" relationships must be complex.

P.S. Beyond those questions, I wonder if all of these arrangements are driven, in the final analysis, by the reality that ballet dancers are regularly "laid off" every year after the season ends.

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I thought NYCB Principals are not covered by the union contract, and each negotiates his or her own contract with management. They might still be employees and get employement-based benefits that corps and soloists get -- I'm not sure about this -- but the union contract covers the corps and soloists.

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The label "principal dancer" is not a legal term as far as employment law is concern -- it is more of an honorary title. Different companies organize their hierarchy in different ways with different labels. At a company like ABT, where they have a long-term relationship with certain guest artists, the title "principal" probably refers more to the level of role they are assumed to dance than to a place in the employment hierarchy of the company.

In other, smaller, groups, dancers often work on a short-term contract that spells out obligations and leaves open their options to work elsewhere. You might perform as a principal for them in the three programs they have scheduled, but only be obliged to be exclusively available to them for three distinct periods. And many smaller companies still do not hire union employees.

Working in the arts, dance included, often means working outside the standard employment practices. It's difficult to fit into the paperwork matrix of mainstream employment, where one person has one employer all the time.

The ABT artist in question is not a guest artist. I was focused on union issues from reading about PNB in the Manes book. I remember reading something elsewhere about a union in NY. Would individual dancers negotiate their own contracts and rates?

I assume the dancer in question is named in the book?

Could we go ahead and just say who and what we are talking about? Reading this thread, for those who haven't read the book yet, feels like sitting in a room where everyone is whispering about something that THEY KNOW, but you don't. I realize we are trying to be discreet but as its published in a book I think thats being a bit excessive and it is a bit confusing to follow.

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Thanks for the link California......very interesting.

As I read parts of the contract for Pacific NW Ballet, it answers the question I posed yesterday; namely:

Does the ballet company negotiate a contract with the union such that the company agrees to treat all the independent contractors in a certain way?

Here is the operative paragraph.....it seems that ballet companies do commit to apply the union rules to all dancers regardless of whether they are employees or independent contractors.

The EMPLOYER agrees that the provisions of this agreement shall apply to and inure to the benefit of all ARTISTS

employed or otherwise engaged by the EMPLOYER, or by an affiliate, subsidiary or the like of the EMPLOYER,

directly or indirectly, or through agents/managers or independent contractors, notwithstanding anything herein to

the contrary. Whenever there shall be used in this agreement any phrase of a more restricted meaning, such as, for

example, "ARTISTS employed by the EMPLOYER" such phrase shall be deemed to mean "ALL ARTISTS

employed or otherwise engaged by the EMPLOYER, or by an affiliate or subsidiary of the EMPLOYER, directly or

indirectly, or through agents/managers or independent contractors."

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Thanks to California's link, I now have a PDF copy of the PNB contract. It is 57 pages long blink.png; but half of that is skippable.....I did skim or read the rest. I found it fascinating to "see" behind the "curtain" (as it were) on so many issues that affect a dancers life.

You simply would not believe the detailed agreements the union has made on the dancer's behalf.......such things as the temperature of a studio, or the dozens of minor situations that if the ballet company does this and that, then the dancer gets an additional $10 in pay (my favorite was: if on the night of a performance where a dancer is substituted for, the company must set up a reader board on every floor of the auditorium where the audience can see it, where a notice of the substitution is posted, and if the company fails to set up the reader board, the dancer get $50).

The one thing that I found disturbing is that the union contract requires the company to withhold 2% of the dancer's gross compensation and give it to the union as dues. I'm all for the need to pay some dues, but that 2% of each of my beloved dancer's pay goes to the union, I find excessive mad.gif.

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But if it's deductible...

Well, it might be deductable to an independent contractor as a "business expense"; but for an employee, I don't believe it would have any impact on their income taxes. As an employee, I believe you can deduct some expenses such as required uniforms you must purchase, or certain "outside salesman" expenses; but I believe those deductions are limited to an amount above a certain percentage of income. (I remember when I was once an outside salesman, I could deduct some expenses, but they were never enough to pass the minimun amount necessary to affect my taxes.)

Naturally I could be wrong, but I think this 2% of income going to the union is effectively "spent" after tax money (at least once you consider a possible employee deduction exclusion). This expense would not effect a dancer's taxes any more than if they had bought a dress, a dinner, a movie ticket, or paid dues to a knitting club.

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But if it's deductible...

Well, it might be deductable to an independent contractor as a "business expense"; but for an employee, I don't believe it would have any impact on their income taxes. As an employee, I believe you can deduct some expenses such as required uniforms you must purchase, or certain "outside salesman" expenses; but I believe those deductions are limited to an amount above a certain percentage of income. (I remember when I was once an outside salesman, I could deduct some expenses, but they were never enough to pass the minimun amount necessary to affect my taxes.)

Naturally I could be wrong, but I think this 2% of income going to the union is effectively "spent" after tax money (at least once you consider a possible employee deduction exclusion). This expense would not effect a dancer's taxes any more than if they had bought a dress, a dinner, a movie ticket, or paid dues to a knitting club.

I don't intend this as tax advice, but please look at Federal Schedule A, line 21: "Unreimbursed employee expenses--. . . union dues . . ."

It's true that you can only deduct those expenses in excess of 2% of adjusted gross income (lines 25-26). And they would have to itemize in the first place to take advantage of this.

But the far more important consideration is what you get for those union dues: not just negotiation of salary, benefits, and working conditions, but representation of the dancers throughout the life of the contract when management violates any of those agreements. If a dancer were to hire an agent to do all of those things on his/her behalf instead of a union, would that agent take only 2% of earnings for those services? As a member for 25+ years of a unionized university faculty, I can say with great confidence that the union earned their dues many times over.

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It's true that you can only deduct those expenses in excess of 2% of adjusted gross income (lines 25-26).

I thought it was something like that. The point is that these union dues are for the most part not deductible.

.....only 2% of earnings for those services? As a member for 25+ years of a unionized university faculty, I can say with great confidence that the union earned their dues many times over.

I don't doubt that; but OTOH, I'd hate to see 2% removed automatically from my paycheck for something I have no choice in supporting. Not everyone may feel as you do.

Taking this thread a bit more back to its original intent........I am struck how often in Manes book the union rules come up. In some ways many of these rules seem to restrict the artists as much as protect them. I read in the book many instances when both management and employees/contractors are less than happy that they are not allowed to do what they would otherwise prefer to do (for example, to rehearse more that 55 minutes in a row without a mandatory break.....and someone must actually keep their eye on the clock to insure that this happens) simply because the union rules demand it. I was particularly struck in the book when the stagers came over from Monte Carlo to do Maillot's R&J that they became frustrated time and time again by the union restrictions they had to work under in order to teach the ballet to company. It just didn't make sense to them. Apparently, things are quite different in Europe.

It also occurs to me that the amount of time it must take ballet accounting departments to track every penalty, and every restriction (e.g., a dancer sends more than 5 hours, or whatever it is, on a bus, etc, etc) must drive everyone nuts. I'd bet dollars to donuts that a typical dancer has no idea what all these "penalty" items are in their paycheck.

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I'm sure it feels restricting but what happens when the union rules aren't there? Just because people want to do more in less time doesn't mean it's good for the well being of the dancers, especially when they are so inherently suseptible to injuries or, for many, are struggling with nagging injuries. Or when the corps needs a break because they are going to be onstage all evening while the principal couple wants to keep going because they aren't scheduled to be onstage for another week or are only going to be there for one part of a triple bill. Or what if everyone is onboard for skipping breaks for two hours but on the third the choreographer wants to keep going, while the dancers need to refuel or sit down. "It was fine for the last two hours...why is it suddenly different now?"

And the penalties aren't there for the dancers' reward, they are there to discourage the company from violating their contract. While Boal et al. may be wonderful and always keep the best interests of their dancers first (not intended to be a sweeping factual statement, I'm not familiar enough with the company to have an opinion), there's plenty others who won't be bothered to care unless someone slaps them with a financial punishment. They violate less, they have to spend less time figuring out the books.

Also I doubt things are that much different in Europe for ballet companies that are protected by unions...don't we constantly hear of the unions at La Scala or the Paris Opera?

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In my reading, I thought the Monte Carlo stagers were more frustrated by having to "share" the dancers' attention with other stagers and rehearsals, not being able to extend a rehearsal because the dancers were scheduled elsewhere, and not being able to summon a dancer when s/he was in another rehearsal or had maxxed out the number of rehearsal hours in a day. I also noticed from the narrative that none of them were giving up their smoking breaks.

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........I am struck how often in Manes book the union rules come up. In some ways many of these rules seem to restrict the artists as much as protect them. I read in the book many instances when both management and employees/contractors are less than happy that they are not allowed to do what they would otherwise prefer to do (for example, to rehearse more that 55 minutes in a row without a mandatory break.....and someone must actually keep their eye on the clock to insure that this happens) simply because the union rules demand it.

If both management and the dancers agree that a rule is unnecessary, then that can be dropped in the next contract negotiations. And, typically, union contracts can be "re-opened" during the life of the contract by mutual agreement to make such a change. There might be other reasons for that mandatory break we're not aware of. Sometimes insurance companies insist on things that they believe will minimize injuries (although I don't know if that's the explanation for this particular rule).

I was particularly struck in the book when the stagers came over from Monte Carlo to do Maillot's R&J that they became frustrated time and time again by the union restrictions they had to work under in order to teach the ballet to company. It just didn't make sense to them. Apparently, things are quite different in Europe.

At least some European companies are state-run organizations and the dancers are civil service employees, subject to those rules (POB, Royal Danish, perhaps others). Presumably that isn't the case in Monte Carlo.

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In my reading, I thought the Monte Carlo stagers were more frustrated by......

Well, certainly they got frustrated by that stuff too. Both constraints were present. Here's a short passage in the book where Boal and the 2 stagers, Coppieters and Baars, are talking about how the union rules are inhibiting the process of getting the ballet on stage:

------------------

There’s a discussion about having her teach company class, which would in effect let her conduct something of an impromptu audition. “I think it’s going to be illegal,” Boal says.

“‘It’s illegal.’” Baars spits out the words with a sneer. “Must be so difficult.”

“It used to be so bad with this company,” Boal says. “You couldn’t say something at the break. Even after a performance you can’t do corrections. You can say ‘Is it okay if I give you corrections?’”

“It’s so out from what we’re used to,” says Baars.

------------------

There are others.

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The stagers from Monte Carlo didn't do their homework to see what the conditions would be when they came. They assumed it would be like working with their own company. That's often a mistake, as it was here.

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I often didn't do my homework either. Used to cause me all sorts of grief.....wink1.gifbiggrin.pngbiggrin.png

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“It used to be so bad with this company,” Boal says. “You couldn’t say something at the break. . . .

It's interesting that Boal is speaking in the past tense here. It sounds as if the previous contract provision in this regard was removed or modified. There might well be a reason we'll never know for that old provision -- perhaps a former coach or teacher or director who abused the breaks, e.g.

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I can see why it would be a potential problem if she tried to teach company class in an effort to get a look at dancers. Morning class is a very private time for most dancers to get their body working and they are also not required to be present. I mean, it all seems silly to "outsiders" but I can see why it would add up. If I had a boss who tried to talk to me about my performance on my break I'd be a little put off too! yucky.gif It's sad things like this had to be regulated at one time, so I wonder at California's statement if there was a specific reason on that one.

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The point of my post was that the stagers for R&J from Europe found our way of doing things strange given the role of the unions at PNB compared to what they were used to back home. I'm no expert of this stuff, but I find it interesting.......also........what is so, is so......nothing more complex than that.

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Most rules have been put in place because someone, at some time, went so far as to make the rules necessary.

(I must say that a rule of only 55 min. before a break seems a bit odd, but -whatever! )

In different countries and sometimes inside of the country there are different rules - and different unions, which of course makes things even more complicated.

Some theatres have special deals worked-out so that they can circumvent some rules and regulations, also regarding pay.

As in everything, it is good when the pathways of communication are open and people are willing to talk to each other without their egos getting in the way. smile.png

(I would like to read this book, too, but am waiting for it to come out in paperback, over here. smile.png So far it appears to be still too expensive for me.)

-d-

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At NYCB tonight, an artist performed who was most definitely not on the company payroll. For Ratmansky's Russian Seasons, we had a lovely mezzo, Irina Rindzuner. It's safe to assume that she is also an AGMA member, but the terms of her contract are not likely the same as the dancers'.

Sandy, the studio where I used to take class was big, airy, well ventilated but not air-conditioned. I never took class when it was warmer than 85 degrees out (and I was young then!) because I learned that, with New York humidity, it was easy to get light-headed. For me, class was my recreation. I heard stories, though, of days when dancers passed out from exertion in the heat. And cold can be brutal on the muscles! During the time I was dancing, I sat in front of the office air conditioner. There was nothing I could do to escape the cold air but wear a cardigan tied around my neck and draped over my shoulders, which drew ridicule from colleagues. Still, all summer long, my neck and shoulder were stiff. So I was pleased to read the "minute detail" about studio temperature. Good for the union!

I suspect that the tidbit about when someone can discuss things with dancers is because of the unique nature of what dancers do. If a ballet master approaches a dancer with a correction, sooner or later, talk will turn to action. Enforced rest is there for a reason, and if the dancer tries out the suggestion (all but inevitable), s/he's not resting.

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So far it appears to be still too expensive for me.

I don't know how book prices work internationally, but here in the USA, I am reading the book on my Kindle. I paid about $10 (what would that be 7 Euros??) for the electronic Kindle edition from Amazon......which comes complete with photos and other graphics.

http://www.amazon.com/Where-Snowflakes-Dance-Swear-ebook/dp/B005NRQZ5O/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2

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You don't need a Kindle or another electronic reader to read the book: I'm not sure about Nook and the others, but amazon.com offers free software downloadable to a PC or Mac that allows you to read it on your PC. There are also free Kindle apps for iPhones, iPads, and Android phones, so that you can read Kindle books on them. I read books on my phone all the time, since the buses in Vancouver have very dim lighting at night, making reading the Kindle, as well as non-electronic books/magazines/newspapers, a struggle.

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