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Flash Letters, 12-14: Strike!
As Dancers Walk in Puerto Rico, will the Nearly Scabbed Become the Scabs?

Editor's Note: The Dance Insider recently received and authenticated a copy of a letter from striking dancers at the Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico to members of Dance Theatre of Harlem and American Ballet Theatre, alleging DTH and ABT dancers were willing to "substitute" for the striking dancers. An ABT spokeswoman said she was "unaware" of the situation, adding that the dancers were off until January 4. As first reported by the Dance Insider, DTH has "suspended operations" through the rest of the 2004-2005 season. Contacted by the Dance Insider, Alan Gordon, executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents the DTH performers, responded, "AGMA will seek to discipline any member that takes struck work....We can charge a scab with conduct unbecoming a union member, hold a hearing, impose a fine and sue them in court here to collect the fine. Its not something we like to do to our own members, but strikebreaking is strikebreaking and no one's going to tolerate it.... We've had a few calls to inquire, and we tell dancers: If you were on strike against DTH to make a living wage, how would you feel if they brought in dancers from another country to replace you and beat your strike?" (In 1997, in the first strike by organized dancers in US history, DTH dancers did strike -- and set up picket lines at the company's headquarters, successfully stopping director Arthur Mitchell from auditioning "replacement" dancers.)

Following are, respectively, the letter the striking Puerto Rican dancers sent to their ABT and DTH colleagues, and Gordon's letter to the management of Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico. An e-mailed request for comment from management was returned; the Dance Insider continues to welcome comment by management. By publishing the dancers' letter, the Dance Insider is not endorsing the verity of any of the dancers' claims regarding the management practices of Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico.


November 29

It has come to our attention that dancers from (Dance Theatre of) Harlem and ABT (American Ballet Theatre) are willing to come to Puerto Rico to substitute for our local dancers who are on strike. Please note that the situation is very critical and that the public is against the company's intent to attack the integrity of our dancers. Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico is a professional ballet company of 21 dancers. ALL of them at present are on strike. The economic(s)... in the administration of Ballet Concierto of Puerto Rico and the unwillingness of (its) board of directors to tend the demands of information of the company's dancers have forced them to hang (up) the slippers until the survival of the corporation is clarified and guaranteed.

It has become a standard practice that Ballet Concierto's dancers are 'laid off' because of the alleged economic insolvency of the corporation. The administrators give us no explanations.... The refusal to disclose the financial statements is astonishing, since it is known that Ballet Concierto of Puerto Rico enjoys one of most significant budget allocations of the legislature in the world of the Puerto Rican spectacle. Therefore, the dancers' claim is about the handling of what constitutes public funding.

Surprisingly, the dancers already have been notified that they will be laid off from December 13, the date when they conclude the traditional performances of "The Nutcracker," which constitutes the summit event of the company and one of its greater sources of income.

On November 8, the dancers asked the board of directors of Ballet Concierto for a meeting to discuss their worries. After scheduling a meeting in the offices of the company, at noon yesterday, the dancers were notified (of) the board's determination that the financial statements were not going to be disclosed, and that any meeting would have to be made between the dancers, their artistic director Carlos Cabrera, Lolita San Miguel and the board's lawyer. Dancers have expressed that It is unacceptable that they are asked to meet with the person that for years has misinformed them and placed Ballet Concierto in the dire financial situation they are confronting today.

Now, the administration pretends to present "The Nutcracker" with the school students, (who) are not professionals and they also have made public their intent to pay for professionals from out of town to come and substitute (for) the 21 dancers. The real question here is, If there were no money for the company dancers how will they pay dancers from other companies? And, Are people willing to pay the ticket to see a school workshop performance and not a professional performance?

Please be aware that the participation of your dancers on a performance that has been question for the past month could be very negative to your company and the dynamics and future of ballet.

Thank you for your consideration; if you can stop this situation, please act.

Aureo Andino
Spokeperson - dancer


December 3

Carlos Cabrera and Lilian Velazquez
Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico
316 De Diego Avenue
Santurce, Puerto Rico

Via Facsimile and E-mail

Dear Mr. Cabrera & Ms. Velazquez:

The American Guild of Musical Artists, AFL-CIO is the labor union that represents most ballet dancers in the United States, including those who work for Dance Theatre of Harlem.

We support the efforts of your dancers, currently on strike against your company, to secure meaningful protections for their professional and artistic rights.

We deplore your efforts to import dancers from DTH to do this struck work, and we have advised the dancers that we represent at DTH that they may not accept work from you that was previously done by the dancers on strike. Any dancer from DTH that works as a strike-breaker will be disciplined by this union to the fullest extent allowed by law. We are certain that the IAA, the union that represents dancers at ABT, will do the same with regard to their members.

Moreover, inasmuch as the American National Labor Relations Act applies fully in Puerto Rico, we have authorized our attorneys to give advice and support to the attorneys representing your dancers.

There is no question but that a dance company should be willing to make a full and complete disclosure of all of its financial books and records to its dancers. As you may be aware, binding labor law requires such complete disclosure. That your dancers are not currently represented by a union is irrelevant. The law protects 'concerted' activity and a strike is the most obvious form of such protected activity.

While some labor disputes may be unavoidable, if your dancers feel that there is no viable alternative to engaging in a strike, your obligation is to try to resolve the issues, not to break the strike with scab labor. It is despicable for your dance company to try to take advantage of the economic hardships of other dance companies by attempting to import unionized dancers from the United States.

We hope your company and its dancers are able to resolve your current dispute in a symbiotic manner that protects your financial viability while assuring that your dancers' lives and welfare are similarly protected. But you cannot accomplish that objective by importing strikebreakers and this union will undertake every legal avenue available to us to prevent that from happening.

Cordially,

Alan S. Gordon
Executive Director
The American Guild of Musical Artists

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