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mln

Nevada Ballet petitions to unionize

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mln

I thought I would call attention to a unionization effort at Nevada Ballet that I have been following very closely.  The dancers will vote on Dec. 4 to have the American Guild of Musical Artists represent them.  The management has resisted the unionization and has hired lawyers to help dissuade the dancers from voting yes.  It is a rather tense scene.  There is much to learn about the ballet profession by following this story.  I think the best source of information is the American Guild of Musical Artists' website, IG account, and FB account, where you will find press releases, updates, petitions, and posts of support from the other AGMA companies. 

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slhogan

Good for NBT for unionizing! (or, at this point, trying to unionize). Being part of AGMA provides essential protections for the dancers, and it will help attract top talent into the company. 

My son is 21 and a company dancer with an AGMA company.  When he began auditioning for companies a few years ago, he and many of his friends only looked at companies with AGMA affiliation. I've been pleased with the protections it provides plus unexpected perks such as free college tuition (free online college up to bachelor's degree).

I signed the petition and support NBT's right to unionize!

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JKK

Among many others, one particular AGMA benefit I find attractive is the 1 year limitation on apprentice contracts. I understand the purpose of this limitation is to prevent companies from indefinitely utilizing entry level, and much lower paid, apprentices, to “fill out the corp.”

I also understand that under AGMA rules, apprenticeships are instead an opportunity for the dancer and company to have a lower compensated “trial run” of no more than one year.  This policy ostensibly forces the hand of the company and prevents the “stringing along” of young dancers at a vulnerable time in their careers.

I know zero about NBT, but was coincidentally and recently (prior to this thread) perusing the NBT website. I noticed that 17 dancers are named as “Company Artists,” 8 as “Apprentices,” and 6 as “Trainees.” The Trainees are listed as an NBT Academy program.

I will not speculate on the motivation behind, or the actuality of, NBT’s internal operations, but I can say that even the largest AGMA companies with three to four (or more) times the number of company artists, do not, generally speaking, employ 8 apprentices at a time. 

In addition to the benefits already referenced by SLHOGAN, if NBT’s dancers unionize with AGMA, I hope this also helps address the too common problem of companies keeping young, entry level dancers in the extensive limbo between post-grad and full company member.

Likewise, per MLN’s OP, unionizing is, even at its best, a tense process. My thoughts go out to NBT for a successful resolution and a speedy return to normalcy.

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mln

Unfortunately, the situation is getting pretty ugly.  The apprentices are the targets, because the management can use the policy JKK cited as a way to scare them.  It's a good policy [I think AGMA limits apprenticeships to two years, not one, however], but you can see how it might be twisted into a threat.  The union-busting board members are scheduling captive audience meetings with apprentices at times when the apprentices have important Nutcracker rehearsals and even rehearsals with the Balanchine repetiteur who is in town to set Four Temperaments. The apprentices, who are probably learning these dances for the first time, are being forced to miss the rehearsals to attend the meetings.

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JKK

So sorry to hear about these management tactics MLN. Terrible.

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dancemaven

It is often an ugly situation when a non-union company tries or elects to unionize.  Management almost never likes it and often fights tooth-and-nail and/or dirty.  

Just look at what happened at Washington Ballet when they unionized several years ago.  It is not uncommon for the dancers leading the push for unionization to be martyred and loose their contracts.  But the companies are always better off in terms of the dancers’ protections—-if they are strong enough to keep those protections.  But that then, becomes up to them.  Management will always push to decrease their protections.

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mln

Dacemaven,

Where can we find out more about Washington's unionization story?  Will a Google search work?

 

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balletmuse

Please forgive my ignorance, both of the Ballet world, and of unions...but can the smaller companies actually stay afloat financially if they become unionized?  Won’t they need to limit the number of dancers they do hire?  Of course I would want my dancer in an AGMA company...but I am just wondering with the limited audience for classical ballet that there seems to be at this point, and the lack of government funding (like there is in Europe), if the smaller companies can stay in business if they employ the policies that we all want dancers to be protected by.  Does the management that opposes unionization just want to make money by misusing dancers...or do they just want to stay in existence?

 

 

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mln

balletmuse,

I am just learning about all of this, too.  Nevada Ballet Theatre is small, but not that small.  Their annual budget is close to 30th in a ranking of US ballet companies by budget.  They have a healthy asset reserve, too, according to Charity Navigator's 2018 report.  Smaller companies, such as Sacramento Ballet, have recently unionized successfully.  Plus, most of the recently unionized companies seem to be thriving.  I don't know of any companies that had to fold because of unionization--though someone can correct me if there is one.  Unionization often leads to greater success and prestige for a company.  My guess is that, in the short term, there is probably a financial sacrifice required to standardize salaries and benefits, and contract negotiations may seem like a hassle for the management, especially if they have traditionally had a lot of control over these matters.  After a few years, however, and perhaps even more quickly than that, I would expect Nevada Ballet to be healthy, growing, and even rising in stature. 

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meatball77

balletmuse,

Perhaps some of those companies need to collapse, because all they are doing is exploiting the dancers that work for them.  Then the bigger companies can become stronger.  I think part of the issue with ballet as a whole right now is the mass exploitation of desperate dancers who are kept dangling instead of being told that they just don't have the ability to support themselves dancing.

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MelissaGA

The apprentice issue may be a big one for NBT. There is at least one apprentice who is their 4th season. Prior to the last year, trainees were part of the company, not the academy.  Another issue is their “half weeks” when dancers have less rehearsal and are paid less money for those weeks.  NBT was in grave financial trouble a few years ago (probably 10 years ago, maybe more). I have wondered if some of these measures actually date back to trying to keep the company afloat in more austere times. 

As a related aside, NBT couldn’t afford live music for Swan Lake this fall nor Nutcracker this winter,  They put out a statement about this earlier this fall. I believe it was before the union vote took place. Yet, they have money to hire antitrust attorneys... or someone has the money to donate for that purpose. 

Sarasota is a more recent example of what happened with unionization. Similar to the Washington Ballet story, dancers did not get new contracts for next season.

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Eligus

It's so frustrating to see these worker/management "fights" continuing... when it gets to this point, I feel like everyone involved has lost trust and faith in each other and the process.  

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mln

The orchestral music was canceled very late in the game this season, which made many local musicians irate.  Cutting the music seemed to be in response to a one-time blip in fundraising. Some musicians were calling for a boycott of the ballet, which I thought was the wrong tactic, though I understand their frustration.  

Despite the blip, the company does not seem to be in financial danger.  The company does most performances at a large-capacity opera house, and I have not heard that ticket sales are a problem.  Las Vegas seems to appreciate the ballet.  For three or four performances over the past two years, I have even checked to see how full the house is a few days before opening night, and the orchestra always looks mostly full.  I know ticket sales don't cover the cost of expensive productions, however.

Based on various charity review sites, such as Guidestar and Charity Navigator, NBT's finances have been relatively healthy over several years, even with the recent blip.  However, the dancers don't seem to have benefited (even though some other people have benefited considerably).  When there is a blip in the budget, however, the artists suffer.  I think this company is capable of investing more in the dancers than they have in recent years, and the AGMA folks seem to agree.

As for cuts, no one can predict what will happen.  If the company votes yes, dancers cannot be cut as retribution for supporting the union.  That is illegal.  But there may be other cuts based on artistic and budgetary needs.  I am not sure Sarasota is an apt model for what might happen at NBT, however.  When Sarasota unionized, it had a huge roster, especially compared to its budget.  NBT has a small roster compared to its budget.  It does not have a second company.  It uses every dancer on the roster and hires guests for most performances.  The fact that they need all of the dancers is no guarantee that all of the dancers will be retained, of course.  But a company with NBT's budget would normally have a few more dancers on the roster than NBT has.

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balletmuse

Thank you min, meatball77, and everyone else.  This is very interesting to learn about. I hope for a good outcome for these dancers. 

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MelissaGA

Mln, a large portion of the fundraising (such as the large sums raised at the Black and White Gala) goes to their very robust outreach programs.  It was surprising to me that they could raise such nice sums annually and not use any for company needs such as pointe shoes, salaries, etc. 
 

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