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Letters, 12-14: Strike!
As Dancers Walk in Puerto Rico, will the Nearly Scabbed Become the
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.
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
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.
Spokeperson - dancer
Carlos Cabrera and Lilian
Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico
316 De Diego Avenue
Santurce, Puerto Rico
Via Facsimile and E-mail
Dear Mr. Cabrera & Ms.
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.
Alan S. Gordon
The American Guild of Musical Artists
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