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"Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear"Inside the Land of Ballet


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#31 puppytreats

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 07:58 AM

This is what I recall reading about ABT's union, and maybe it (subconsciously?) contributed to my question:
http://www.nytimes.c...ance/15abt.html

#32 SandyMcKean

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 09:11 AM

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."



#33 SandyMcKean

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 01:01 PM

Thanks to California's link, I now have a PDF copy of the PNB contract. It is 57 pages long Posted Image; 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 Posted Image.

#34 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 03:19 AM

But if it's deductible...

#35 SandyMcKean

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 12:04 PM

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.

#36 California

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 12:16 PM

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.

#37 SandyMcKean

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 02:28 PM

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.

#38 ksk04

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 02:50 PM

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?

#39 Helene

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 03:09 PM

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.

#40 California

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 03:20 PM

........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.

#41 SandyMcKean

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 04:09 PM

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.

#42 Helene

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 04:19 PM

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.

#43 SandyMcKean

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 04:23 PM

I often didn't do my homework either. Used to cause me all sorts of grief.....Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

#44 California

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 04:52 PM


“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.

#45 ksk04

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 05:39 PM

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! Posted Image 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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