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New York City Ballet Mini Troupe Sparks Union Action

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Peter Martins
Peter Martins, the ballet master in chief of the New York City Ballet. The union represeting Martins' dancers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Photographer: Paul Kolnik/New York City Ballet via Bloomberg

Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The union representing New York City Ballet dancers said today it filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The filing by the American Guild of Musical Artists concerns a small ensemble -- New York City Ballet Moves -- that the dancers say was created without consulting the union. AGMA said its expired contract required union approval of any concerts that don’t include the entire troupe.

Alan Gordon, executive director of the union, said although the contract expired in July its provisions remain in effect. He described talks for a new deal as “contentious.”

“We’re in the middle of negotiating with them,” he said in an interview. “They’re stonewalling the dancers in refusing to consider a wage increase. We’re not going to do anything that benefits the company until the company responds to the dancers’ concerns.”

Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins was en route home from Denmark. A spokesman, Rob Daniels, said the ballet told the union of its plans.

“We hope that the union will not stand in the way of additional work opportunities for its members,” Daniels said.

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The union said it requested help with contract talks from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which mediates labor disputes.

The ballet’s operating revenue fell 5 percent in the year ending June 2009, led by a drop in ticket sales and the endowment, according to its last annual report posted on the Internet. The operating deficit quadrupled to $4.8 million.

Martins earned $723,000 in salary and benefits in 2008, according to its latest tax return posted on Guidestar.org.

Dancers’ weekly minimum compensation ranges from $1,015 a week for members of the corps de ballet to $2,341 for principals, excluding extras such as overtime, according to their contract on the union’s website. Pay hasn’t changed since 2009.

Gordon said management proposed another wage freeze without agreeing to freeze Martins’s pay or that of other staffers.

“If anyone is going to get a wage increase it should be the dancers,” Gordon said. “Without the dancers, it’s just a philharmonic orchestra.”

Work Rules

Gordon added that the ballet has resisted the union’s request for new work rules, such as giving dancers more notice about casting and increased rehearsal time.

“The company respects them as dancers but it doesn’t respect them as employees,” Gordon said. “The culture of ballet is to treat dancers as kids.”

The creation of New York City Moves was announced last week. It is scheduled to make its debut this summer, with principals, soloists and members of the corps.

To contact the writer on this story: Philip Boroff in New York at pboroff@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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