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Labor Pains at TWB


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This is indeed very ugly.

I, too, am confused by the word "strike". I know all contracts are not alike, but in our faculty contract the workers must 1) vote to strike, and 2) give management 10 days' notice of intent to strike. It is very clear what is a strike, and what is not.

It sounds as though management is confused by the concept of a contract. (Our administration is fond of calling the contract "your contract", as though they weren't signatories and the contract was something we imposed on them. We have to remind them that it is "their" contract as well. I think this distinction comes about because labor contracts generally curb abuses of power by management. Management thus feels contrained. I suspect this is especially true of new contracts.) I'll be interested to see what the NLRB rules.

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Here is a link to the AGMA (dancers' union) website, with its press release and a copy of the interim agreement that was briefly on the table:


And in the interest of equal time, here is a link to the Washington Ballet website - all I could find on the situation was the Nutcracker cancellation page:


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Thanks, Bill. I'm no particular expert in labor contracts, much less those for performing artists.

Does anyone know if the working hour conditions are in line with industry standards?

The stipulation that appropriate flooring be provided seems eminently reasonable. I wonder if things came to a head at this juncture because there were some private performances on the schedule--might these have been in venues with inappropriate flooring?

The stipulation that nonrenewal of contracts would be subject to usual grievance procedures seems nonstandard for performing arts--comments?

Earlier reports indicated that rehearsals were due to restart on January 3, so I would imagine that there will be some news one way or the other soon.

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Good questions, koshka.

The following union statement (from Bill's link) seems to complicate the strike v. lockout situation (see second paragraph):


"Exhausted by an unlimited rehearsal and performance schedule and becoming injured at an alarming rate, the dancers told their management, at a December 12 bargaining session, which looked more like a conglomeration of the walking wounded than a group of skilled artists, that they had no option but to insist upon a binding, enforceable interim agreement that protected their health and their safety and their jobs now, even as negotiations toward a collective bargaining agreement dragged on.

"They told the Ballet that commencing with the December 15 evening performance, they would not perform in Nutcracker until an interim agreement was concluded.

"The Company’s immediate response, refusing to meet with AGMA & the dancers, was to cancel the next two rehearsals and then, after again refusing to meet with AGMA, cancelled the rest of the Nutcracker performances."

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Has any official work come out regarding the rest of the season? My understanding is that most professional ballet troupes count on 'Nutcracker season' revenues to foot the bill for the remainder of the season. The cancellation of 'Nutcracker' must have made a terrible hole in the operating budget for the rest of the season.

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The dancers are evidently without unemployment benefits, too.

Wonder if Palmquist would have been so quick to reject Michael Kaiser's offer to help ("it's too soon to mediate") if he had been denied benefits. I wonder just what he deems sufficient time. This gets worse and worse......

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I know this is a late response, but someone had asked if the interim contract represented industry standards, as far as rehearsal hours, etc., and I can tell you that it does. In fact, it is much the same as other AGMA contracts. You can read the contracts that are currently being negotiated on-line at the AGMA websites- I think it is musicalartists.org. Click on agreements, and then choose dance.

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That's right, and also bear in mind that both sides are making self-serving statements to the press right now.

We won't start to get anywhere near the whole truth on this unpleasant matter until one or both sides go to law, witnesses are sworn and testify and are cross-examined. And maybe not then.

I am trying to maintain a rigorous impartiality in this matter, and believe that something foul is going on, but I'm not certain where it is, or even what, or within whom it lies.

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What I'm not clear on is the bit about the 3 year contracts. That's a standard now? I was under the impression that generally contracts were reviewed every year... so that letters of intent went out before the audition season...

It seems like the shelf life a dancer is so short that 3 year contracts might not work well for a company without a secure endowment (as I assume most ballet companies in this country are).

And then I started wondering about Europe where presumably things are more stable. How does job security work at the Paris Opera?

How does it work for professional ball players... presumably they have a short career span (compared to say insurance brokers) as well... but then again, there's that business about trading players... haven't figured out how that might play out in the dance world...

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NPR aired a comprehensive story on Wash Ballet's labour troubles, reported by Elizabeth Blair. The link is below. The story includes sound bites from the Board chair, the articitic director and Chip Coleman, a dancer, among others.

Performing Arts

Washington Ballet's Labor Problems Jar Dance World

by Elizabeth Blair

Weekend Edition - Saturday, January 7, 2006 · Ballet companies around the country are watching a strike at the Washington Ballet with anxiety. The dancers' union feels an overly demanding work schedule is causing injuries, and union reps are pushing to organize companies around the country.


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So at the Paris Opera, how are dancers who cease to be desirable eliminated from the line-up?  Or are they allowed to remain?  Or is this why there is the mandatory retirement age there?

Actually, it seems to me that though the POB dancers are paid by the state, they are not exactly civil servants, but I'm not sure (perhaps cygneblanc knows better ?) It is very rare that a dancer gets fired, but it can happen, I remember reading that if a dancer was considered as unable to do his/her job properly, there was some sort of commission which could fire him/her, it happened a few times. But there probably also are some dancers in the corps de ballet who are cast very seldom. (Also, besides "regular" dancers, there are a few dancers on short-term contracts, whose contract might not be renewed).

But I guess it doesn't make much sense to compare the POB, with its huge budget and state subsidies (I suspect that even if there were a few incompetent dancers, they salaries would be very very little compared to what is spent for operas...), and with the French labour laws, with companies from other countries.

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It's an interesting situation in DC; the Washington Ballet is not functioning and the visibility of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet has increased, with the staging of Don Q and Ms. Farrell's Kennedy Center honors. I imagine that all parties, including individual dancers and company staffers, are reviewing their options.

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Fret not (yet!), Hans--I think that Bill's comment is more like a "Hmmmm, what might happen". Face it, a couple of dozen dancers are out of work for the duration and there is a growing company in town.

Given that the Feb. and Mar. performances have been cancelled, we can only hope that WB can work things out now that there is less time pressure than there was during the Nutcracker.

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