CriticalDance Forum

Unions, legislation and the Arts
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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 2:22 am ]
Post subject:  Unions, legislation and the Arts

This story from today's UK press opens another dimension of 'Managing Dance'. Can I make one plea - that we take particular care to keep the discussions cool and courteous, as I'm aware that this may be an emotive issue for some readers. I'm very interested to learn about the different practices in our various countries and the effects of these conditions on dance and dancers.

'Impresario padlocks artists in rehearsal room to keep out 'disruptive' Equity.'

Equity, the UK performers' union, has great strength in the theatre, but much less so in dance. Opera I don't know about. The article mentions the new legislation here, which means that an employer cannot deny union representation to a workforce if a majority seek that representation.

Without commenting on the validity of the new legislation, it's interesting that the impresario Ramond Gubbay seems to be using the Kedulka agument - the legislation doesn't apply to the Arts.

What's the situation elsewhere and how would you like it to be?

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<small>[ 03 September 2004, 11:47 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  salzberg [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 3:57 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

Here in the US, actors and stage managers are typically represented (if at all) by Actors' Equity; dancers are usually protected (if at all) by AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists) or AGVA (American Guild of Variety Artists -- this one covers Vegas-type shows and, I think, cruise ships). Other unions protect stagehands* (IATSE -- the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees, also known as "IA"), designers and scenic artists (USA -- United Scenic artists, which is now a part of IATSE), and musicians (AFofM -- the American Federation of Musicians).<P>The strongest of these (by far!) is the AFofM. I'm very familiar with Equity and IA, somewhat less familiar with AFofM.<P>Ironically, I know little about AGMA; it's a very weak union -- only the biggest companies are covered, and they haven't been calling me (as opposed to all the small companies that aren't calling me, either). When I do work for an AGMA company, it's as a lighting designer only, so I don't <I>need</I> to know much about their rules.<P>While there are certainly lots of abuses by unions, it's been my experience that the managers who complain the most about unions are the ones who make the unions necessary; they're the ones who create the abusive/unsafe working conditions. Let's look at some of the "unreasonable" requirements that unions make (note that both Equity and IA have several different "contracts"; the following rules are typical, but not necessarily universal):<P>Equity insists that actors get at least one day off a week, except the week before opening.<P>IA insists that presenters give the stagehands at least 8 hours off between calls.<P>Equity insists that the work day be no longer than 9 hours in total length, out of which the actors can work no more than 7.5 hours (exception: on one day during the week before opening, the actors can work 10-out-of-12 hours).<P>IA insists that if you bring a stagehand in, tearing the middle out of his/her day and effectively keeping that person from seeking other employment for that day, you must pay the stagehand for at least 4 hours' work. If you work the stagehands over 5 hours in a row w/o a proper meal break, you must pay them extra.<P>There are abuses from the other side, too. Most IA contracts specify a "minimum call" of four or more stagehands, no matter how simple the show (this does, however, keep management from requiring stagehands to do multiple jobs, which can be unsafe). The AFofM Broadway contract requires management to hire at least 4 pit musicians, even if the play has no live music.<P>I've posted before about Robert Townsend's book <I>Up the Organization</I>. Here's what Townsend has to say about unions:<P>"Labor Unions. . . .<P>... including civil service and the American Association of University Professors, are a bloody nuisance.<P>Unionism, say the most idealistic leaders, has deteriorated into a kind of industrial police force that also sells insurance. The labor movement is now a conservative bureaucracy that resists the creative change of the good manager.<P>If you don't have them, the best way to avoid them is to create a Theory Y environment (see 'People') where your people have a chance to realize their potential (and get recognition for their contribution) in helping the company reach its objectives.<P>If you already have unions, then deal with them openly and honestly. Abide by their rules. For example, be meticulous about explaining every new benefit to the delegate privately and well in advance. After all, you want your people (union or not) to have the best deal you can give them. Whether the union grabs the credit for each item is completely immaterial. Don't sell your people short--they know. And don't turn your people over to the union politician by refusing to initiate benefits on the theory that the union will demand more than you can offer anyway."<P><BR>* also those few movie projectionists who are still union.<P>------------------<BR>Jeffrey E. Salzberg, Lighting Designer<BR>This Day in Arts History: <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank></A><BR>Online portfolio: <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank></A> <P><BR><p>[This message has been edited by salzberg (edited February 07, 2001).]

Author:  salzberg [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 4:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

Another point:<P>The headline said, "padlocked;" the text said that the performers were "locked in", but the context indicates that it would be more accurate to say that the union reps were "locked out".<P>If the cast <I>were</I> locked in -- especially if they were padlocked in -- then this is a cast that <I>desperately</I> needs union protection.<P>Don't believe me? Do a web search on "Triangle Shirtwaist" and "fire".<P>Don't look at the graphics unless you have a strong stomach, though.<BR><P>------------------<BR>Jeffrey E. Salzberg, Lighting Designer<BR>This Day in Arts History: <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank></A><BR>Online portfolio: <A HREF="" TARGET=_blank></A> <P><BR>

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 4:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

Many thanks Jeff for illuminating (ho ho) <BR>the US situation for us. I shall see if I can find someone to do the same for the UK. <P>It would be great to hear about Canada and also France, where the Unions are more powerful than any of these other countries, as far as I know. <p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited February 07, 2001).]

Author:  salzberg [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 4:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

Here's the least horrifying description I could find of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire:<P><BR>=====================================<BR>March 25, 1911 was a mild, sunny day filled with the promise of Spring. For the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory located on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of what was then known as the Asch Building, it was just another day of drudgery and toil. The doors opened early to the immigrant women and men who needed the weekend work. Due to the fact that Saturday was not a regular work day, the doors leading to the fire-exits were not opened. The owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, felt such action would “keep the women busy at their machines”. They themselves escaped the fire that would destroy so many lives, only adding more fuel to the tide of public outrage that followed the gruesome tragedy. <P>The fire began shortly after 4:30 p.m. in the cutting room on the eighth floor on the Greene Street side of the building. Only the staircase on this side had an exit that led to the roof. Fed by thousands of pounds of flammable fabric, the terrible blaze spread rapidly to the upper floors of the Greene Street side of the building. Most of the workers on the eighth and tenth floors escaped via the stairs or the one exit before it collapsed, killing many and blocking escape for even more. For those unfortunates on the ninth floor, their fates were sealed because the door to the fire exit was locked. Many, with their hair and clothes on fire, jumped to their deaths from open windows. For the fire department, the horror story that unfolded was compounded by the fact that although their equipment was the most sophisticated of its day, the ladders only reached up to the sixth floor. Fire-men watched helplessly as workers died before their very eyes and life nets broke when the desperate women jumped in groups of three and four. <P>=====================================<p>[This message has been edited by salzberg (edited February 07, 2001).]

Author:  Basheva [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 6:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

My only argument with unions is how the union dues that is subtracted from the paychecks of the workers is used. <P>But perhaps that is another subject.

Author:  salzberg [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 6:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

Unless those dues are being donated to arts organizations, let's save that discussion for a more appropriate forum, please.

Author:  trina [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 7:04 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

OOOYYY!! Dont' get me started on unions!!!!!!! In the US, AGMA, which covers concert dancers, only covers the very biggest companies. Everyone else (ie the backbone of modern dance in the US) must fend for themselves. EVERYONE gets paid more than the dancers themselves- stagehands, ushers, administration, lighting desingers....why?????, you might well ask. Because EVERYONE KNOWS DANCERS WILL WORK FOR NOTHING. Which is kind of goofy, since dancers make the whole thing happen...well of course, not the whole thing, but if the dancers don't show up,,,,then???????????

Author:  wordfox [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 7:07 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

There is no doubt that unionized labor came about for a reason - i.e. to protect workers from the abuses of those more powerful. As with any good idea, I believe it has mutated.<P>Question to ponder: Can creativity flourish if the conditions in which it must occur are strictly dictated?<P>Item: In the midst of a dress rehearsal for a ballet performance of "Bolero" - the other rehearsals of the other works on the program had run longer than expected. We were approaching the three-hour call on the orchestra and the finishing bars of music were approaching - BIG finish.<P>The union rep. for the orchestra sat with a stop watch and counted down the call, and ordered the musicians to stop with less than thirty (30) seconds of music remaining. The dancers were dumbstruck - amazed that anyone who called themself an artist could do that - to the dancers; to the music; to the conductor (who volunteered to continue counting the music through to the finish.) From that day forward, the company never used the orchestra again.<P>Item: In the midst of choreographing. Reaching a "break-through" point where everything seemed to fall together, and an entire ballet begin to develop, and having the union rep. call the end of the rehearsal day for the dancers. Then, trying to hold onto that vision through the night till the next rehearsal.<P>Item: In the midst of another dress rehearsal, needng to move a chair (prop) to a new place to accomodate choreography; and being reprimanded by the stagehands, THEN having to wait for the designated "chair mover" to walk casually out on stage and do move the furniture about five feet.<P>Though the intent may be admirable, and I am sure that there are still abuses that need attention, I have come to believe that unions tend to discourage individual drive and effort (i.e. no one can excel, because that would show up the deficiencies of others). In a sense, they might be thought to legislate mediocrity. <P>Thoughts?<P>

Author:  BabsLights [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 7:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

Just to keep the conversation from straying to high into generalities...thought I'd provide some hard numbers for a situation here. The theatre where one of the companies I works for is an IA house. One hour ago I called to get the rate increases for labor for next year (it's budget time). The rates were from $9.51/hr to $14.09/hr. This weekend I posted an audition notice to a website for a ballet company here. Rates were Apprentices $370/wk, Corps $739/wk. A modern company I know has salary from $370/wk to $550/wk.<P>All this just to point out that though the grass may frequently appear greener, it isn't always. And we perpetuate these bad feelings for no purpose.<P>

Author:  wordfox [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 9:44 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

<P>Babs: Please don’t misconstrue – I do not begrudge ANYONE a living wage.<P> Frankly, I was a little surprised at the rates you quoted for local stagehands. I was paying more than $10 an hour base time in 1983 in one major city. That did not include overtime (effective after eight hours or on weekends), or payments toward union benefits, etc.<P> The ballet company you mentioned must be a union company. For every company in the country that is paying $739/wk for corps, there are probably ten that are paying $300 a week. And, the average company contract only lasts for about thirty weeks of the year. Factor that in to the larger amount of $739 and it becomes an annualized income of $426/wk. Factor it into the smaller amount, and the dancers can qualify for food stamps. (There is a reason they call dancers Gypsies. They have to keep moving to find sources of income.) <P> In one small company with which I worked, we routinely paid orchestra musicians MORE in the annual budget than we did the dancers – and the musicians only appeared about eight to ten times on stage, while we tried to support dancers for thirty weeks. It was pretty sad. In order to focus on the dancers, we gave up live music. And then had the musicians picket us because we had decided to use tape. (Not even a sanctioned strike – only informational – as the theatre was non-union; so they decided to do it even though we had not broken any rules.) <P> Sorry if I can’t be more sympathetic, but I have seen dancers stretch themselves to the absolute limit of emotional and physical well-being in order to spend one evening on stage. Regardless of what everyone deserves to be paid, I have difficulty in identifying with anyone who doesn’t share that same personal passion for the art or profession they pursue.<BR>

Author:  salzberg [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 10:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

I totally agree about AGMA; they're so weak and ineffectual that several years ago, the dancers at ABT pulled out and formed their own union.<P>I also agree that the unions can stifle creativity, but usually a rehearsal can be extended if the company is willing to pay overtime; of course, with a 90-person orchestra (or even a much smaller one), that could be thousands of dollars.<P>It's pretty common for musicians to have an "orchestra clock" -- a large clock mounted on a music stand. As soon as the second hand hits the "12", they'll stop playing (even if in the middle of a measure), unless they've been notified in advance that overtime's been approved.

Author:  Azlan [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 11:27 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

Too bad Lucy is vacationing currently. She will have a lot to say about this, especially having sat on a board of a union and knowing the people who pulled away into their own union.

Author:  trina [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 11:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

I know of one well known modern company in NYC whose dancers tried to go union about 15 yrs ago (at least). (the company shall go unamed for obvious reasons) The artistic director fought it tooth and nail; he begged, intimidated, cajoled the dancers not to do (go union). Threatened firing. This is illegal by the way. You're not supposed to impede anyone who's intersted in investigating a union affiliation. <BR>Anywyay, the company voted to go union; after much controversy. I guess the dancers got tired of all day tech rehearsals which went IMMMEDIATELY into performance without a break, firing without casuse, no per diems, etc. <BR>Yes, unions have potential to stifle creativity; all us choreographers know that inspiration doesn't happen on union time!! But what's the alternative---abusive behavior that I've mentioned above? We have to (now I'm talking as a dancer--heeeehee!) get out the "victim, somone will have to take care of me, because I can't take care of myself" mentality. Until we do, things will never change. <BR>Look at musicians; they have a "kick a**" union. They dont' let anyone walk on them...if you "ain't gonna get it done during the alloted rehearsal time,,,,byebye"! I know this sounds militant..but ............! I speak from personal experience!! And from a multiple of prespectives! Do I sound like "Norma Rae" or what?????????<P>[This message has been edited by trina (edited February 07, 2001).]<p>[This message has been edited by trina (edited February 07, 2001).]

Author:  BabsLights [ Wed Feb 07, 2001 1:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Unions, legislation and the Arts

I think there needs to be a middle ground. Otherwise the art will cease to be do-able. <P>Look at Miami City Ballet doing a season without live music because of the cost of "protecting"<P>Look at New York City Ballet pretty much unable to tour because of their musicians union. <P>I agree that if unionization needs to be done to protect the workers from being abused, then it should be done. However, I do think there are as many abuses of the system as there are protections.<P>What could have possibly been so abusive to the ushers in a theatre that they needed to unionize?<P>

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