Published in
Features

Dancers' Union Files Labor Charge Against NYC Ballet

There's drama behind the scenes at the New York City Ballet (NYCB) after the troupe announced the creation of a smaller touring company, New York City Ballet Moves.

The new company would bring City Ballet dancers to perform at more intimate venues, such as small concert halls and universities. But the union that represents ballet dancers nationwide has moved to block the creation of the smaller company, claiming that the City Ballet dancers' labor contract prohibits breaking up the full troupe without getting permission from the union first. On Tuesday, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against City Ballet.

Since last July, the New York City Ballet and the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) have been in tense negotiations over their collective bargaining agreement. "City Ballet has taken a very aggressive position and told us that they don't want to give the dancers a wage increase," said Alan Gordon, the union's director. "And that they won't reply to our proposals about improved conditions unless they accept a wage freeze."

The union's demands include provisions that would require producers to post casting calls 14 days in advance of a performance. Producers would also would have to start rehearsals after noon, so that dancers can get a full night's sleep and have time to warm up. Gordon says the dancers aren't being prima donnas. "Have you seen Black Swan?" he said. "You think it’s a lot of pressure in the movie? It's twice that in the real world."

Like many large arts institutions, City Ballet's budget has suffered from declined charitable giving during the recession. The union previously accepted a year of frozen salaries, but now hopes to use the unfair labor practice as leverage to raise salaries in the new contract.

In a written statement, the New York City Ballet claims "the NYCB had previously told AGMA of its plans to develop smaller touring opportunities above and beyond the company's annual season, so AGMA was well aware of NYCB's intentions in this regard and we hope that the union will not stand in the way of additional work opportunities for its members."

Gordon says the union isn't necessarily opposed to the smaller ensemble, but it wants to make sure the right protections are in place. "It sounds nice to say 'it will be more work for the dancers.' But will it be more strain on the dancers?"