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No Contract, No Dancing? City Ballet Fails to Reach Agreement with Dancers

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Contract negotiations between the union representing dancers at the New York City Ballet and the company's management are "headed for disaster," according to the American Guild of Musical Artists. The guild and City Ballet have wrangled over issues of salaries and overtime wages since the dancers' contract expired in August.

In a written statement, City Ballet Director Katherine Brown said the company is asking its dancers to accept a salary freeze for the first year. In the second year of the contract, the dancers would get a 1.5 percent wage increase.

The company said it had a $6 million projected budget deficit for financial year 2011 and that its administrative staff had not gotten a wage raise since 2008. City Ballet said it was hopeful a mutually acceptable resolution with the guild could be reached.

Alan Gordon, the guild's executive director, said the standard weekly pay for dancers was about $600 and that dancers have in the past settled for these wages because they were passionate about dancing. But he said the dancers planned to retaliate against management if agreement over paid overtime, wages for injured dancers and higher wages was not reached.

"The question the dancers ask now is not whether or not they should engage in some kind of job action, but what kind of job action to engage in and how destructive to make it, so the company is forced to pay attention to their needs," said Gordon. He said a strike was possible. 

A private Facebook page created by the dancers read: "We're fighting for issues that affect every single dancer. Don’t allow management to stretch us past our physical limit with uncompensated overtime rehearsals and then refuse to pay us while we’re injured. Don’t allow them to propose that we perform on the road without physical therapy with wages that are comparable to unemployment. Don’t allow them to blame poor ticket sales on the dancers."

Many dancers in the company, including principals and soloists, have attended union bargaining sessions. The union and City Ballet meet next on Monday, May 2—a day before City Ballet's new season kicks off on May 3.