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 Post subject: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 2:46 am 
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AGMA-represented dancers are being presented with their contracts this month. Are companies who did relatively well this past year passing a fair share of box office gains they couldn't have made without the dancers along to them? The word in some locales is "No," with many dancers angry, and some making their protests heard. Could AGMA dancers--especially senior corps or higher--comment on what's going?

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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 2:57 am 
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Thanks for raising this important issue, Toba. For the benefit of non-US readers, like me, AGMA stands for the American Guild of Musical Artists, which. I understand, is the leading union for dancers in America.


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 5:18 am 
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Location: SF Bay Area
Quote:
Originally posted by Toba Singer:
Are companies who did relatively well this past year passing a fair share of box office gains they couldn't have made without the dancers along to them?
That's a very difficult situation to truly assess. How many companies really did well? Many survived by cutting costs and their financial gains, if any, are based on the reduced budget. Most companies are also behind in payments to vendors partially because of cash flow but also because they may not have gotten funding they expected.

What confuses the true situation even more is that companies, in a bid to attract funders, inflate their financial health. With big and small companies alike shutting down and going on hiatus, donors are weary of giving to a perceived sinking ship.

I have had the privilege of looking at some figures (most companies are non-profit and by law have to make their numbers available to the public) and waded through the creative (or perhaps sloppy) accounting -- it is amazing that dance companies are still performing! In one case, even a 1% increase in wages would have sent the company over the edge. In another, the directors, albeit part time, were not paid for the whole season!

On the other hand, I am not sure AGMA is doing all it can. The First Law of Bill Payment is people will pay first the creditors that hound them the most. I would perhaps have an independent accountant (NOT AN ATTORNEY, not even one who is an expert at finances) look at the books. Then both sides can truly have a common basis to work with.


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 5:31 pm 
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Quote:
Originally posted by Azlan:

I would perhaps have an independent accountant (NOT AN ATTORNEY, not even one who is an expert at finances) look at the books. Then both sides can truly have a common basis to work with.
What a troublemaker you are! ;) May I join you? While there may indeed have been directors who went unpaid, the flip side of the coin is that there are directors paid indecent amounts of money and who receive benefits such as low interest loans or use of a condo. Union negotiaters might think to refer to the most recently published Form 990 and ask why NYCB's lawyers are paid $339,000 per year, and why NYCB's Martins and his wife were given a $50,000 loan at 5% "to induce Martins to continue in the employment as NYCB's Ballet Master in Chief". This on top of more than $600,000 in payments for his services. And then there is the almost endless list of "grants" for selected dancers--with no explanation for their purpose. There's a lot for union negotiators to talk about. But are they?

<small>[ 17 March 2005, 07:01 PM: Message edited by: Poohtunia ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 9:08 pm 
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Corporate accountability is normally brought through the shareholders. In the case of nonprofits, this means the donors. It doesn't matter what the dancers think --- if the DONORS think that $600K is too much to pay for Martins, then they will renegotiate. Otherwise they won't.

Unfortunately, the structure of arts funding (donate then forget about it) makes the donors less interested in accountability than they should be.

As to why NYCB lawyers are payed so much --- that's an easy answer. Because they are lawyers with skills, and most of them probably get nothing special out of working for the ballet as opposed to, say, an investment bank. If NYCB DOESN'T pay them that rate, then they will work for someone else. They're not likely to work for much less simply because it's a ballet company.

As for union negotiators --- there is currently a (relative) glut of skilled dancers because a number of companies didn't survive the recent recession. Believe me, hiring dancers is as easy today as ever. That does not strengthen the union's bargaining position, no matter how much Peter Martins is paid.


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 7:45 am 
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So true, Citibob -- especially your comment about donor accountability. I forgot to add that the $339,000 was paid to a NYC law firm that specializes in high profile union busting.


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 10:27 am 
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I don't have the information in front of me but I think you will find that the dancers at NYCB are also getting raises.

What I was referring are all the other companies in which staff salaries have been frozen or in fact reduced (Mikko Nissinen, AD of Boston Ballet, took a pay cut for example) and where administrative staff have to go on two-week furloughs -- in these, more normal, organizations, it's hard to justify giving the dancers big raises when cuts are being enforced elsewhere.


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 8:34 pm 
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On staff of ballet companies taking pay freezes, the staff is payed year round, where as the dancers are not. Yes, they get unemployment, but that's not full pay. So, I dont really find this unfair, especially if it can give the dancers a raise, or in some cases keep the company a float.

I also think on almost every level the Artistic Director makes too much and the rest of the Artistic Staff is payed too little as are the dancers.

Ofcourse this is just my opinion. :-)

<small>[ 18 March 2005, 09:34 PM: Message edited by: Danseur ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 8:36 pm 
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Quote:
I forgot to add that the $339,000 was paid to a NYC law firm that specializes in high profile union busting.
My oh my... why am I not surprised? Institutions at the top of the ladder frequently act this way. I've seen it from prestigious universities: "you're lucky to be faculty here, so we'll treat you like garbage."

At least people in that situations have options, they can work elsewhere. Just having worked for "the top" gives one many options to work elsewhere. It is an interesting aspect of human nature that many people get "stuck at the top" in spite of being mistreated. Because "nowhere else is good enough."

For better or for worse, I don't see NYCB changing.

<small>[ 18 March 2005, 09:40 PM: Message edited by: citibob ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2005 10:17 pm 
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All these are good arguments for state-supported or publicly-funded ballet companies. It's one thing to receive donations from private interests, quite another to ape their union-busting policies and receive anti-labor advice from their lawyers--informally, of course, whispered judiciously over hors d'ouevres at their wineries where the provenance of the grapes one is drinking (union or ?) is never made known.

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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2005 4:46 am 
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Quote:
Unfortunately, the structure of arts funding (donate then forget about it) makes the donors less interested in accountability than they should be.
In the case of individual donations, absolutely, but government and foundation grants usually involve fairly strict scrutiny.

<small>[ 20 March 2005, 07:53 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2005 8:10 pm 
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Location: SF Bay Area
Quote:
Originally posted by Danseur:
On staff of ballet companies taking pay freezes, the staff is payed year round, where as the dancers are not. Yes, they get unemployment, but that's not full pay.
This is a good argument to reconsider how contracts are worked out for dancers. However, the situation now is that dancers are artists under contract where as administrative staffers are employees. Even with an eight-month contract, many dancers actually make more than the full-time staffers. Additionally, the contract option allows dancers to guest, teach and perform in galas during the offseason, whereas most fulltime staffers have to work evening jobs to make additional income. So, in a way, in addition to legal consideration, the contract option is beneficial to dancers.

As for the staffers who agree to accept the fulltime jobs, they seem to have fewer rights when it comes to enforced furloughs and pay freezes, other than to leave the world of dance altogether, which is a brain drain that we have to mitigate!

Quote:
Originally posted by Danseur:
I also think on almost every level the Artistic Director makes too much and the rest of the Artistic Staff is payed too little as are the dancers.
That's a good point especially at NYCB where critics are accusing the Board to be too close to the AD. The definition of "too much" however is subjective. Ultimately, the AD is responsible for the final artistic quality of the company -- even technical mistakes not in the control of the AD gets blamed on him or her. For that much responsibility and burden of carrying the company forward, I do believe the best ADs should be paid well.

However, my basis for setting salaries would be to use a corporate average, which can be calculated using various factors like number of employees, budget size, etc. Another possible factor is to count the sleepless nights an AD has to endure in a year...

Quote:
Originally posted by Danseur:
Ofcourse this is just my opinion. :-)
That's the beauty of this forum! Post some more, Danseur! The more opinions the better!

<small>[ 20 March 2005, 09:11 PM: Message edited by: Azlan ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2005 8:20 pm 
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Location: SF Bay Area
Quote:
Originally posted by Toba Singer:
All these are good arguments for state-supported or publicly-funded ballet companies. It's one thing to receive donations from private interests, quite another to ape their union-busting policies and receive anti-labor advice from their lawyers--informally, of course, whispered judiciously over hors d'ouevres at their wineries where the provenance of the grapes one is drinking (union or ?) is never made known.
That might be the case and I would agree if it were 100% government funded. The problem you get with most models I've seen is that to demonstrate true public support, the government will fund let's say 90% and insisting the company fundraise the remaining amnount through ticket sales and other donations. You might think this is a good idea but that makes it possible for one or two generous donors to command influence.

Let's do the math:

Scenario A: US Company
Annual budget = $10 million
Government funding = $1 million
Ticket sales = $2 million
Need to fundraise = $7 million
Let's say likely top ten donors each give $500,000 each. The rest consists of donations numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands contributed by several thousand people.

Scenario B: European Company
Annual budget = $10 million
Government funding = $8 million
Ticket sales = $1 million
Need to fundraise = $1 million
One donor gives $500,000. Another gives $500,000.

In which scenario do you think one or two people get to dictate terms to the company? My bet is on the one receiving 80% government funding.


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2005 8:57 pm 
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And are there practical solutions? My turn to brainstorm.

1. How about downsizing productions and hiring fewer but hugely talented dancers, paying them three or four times what they make now, so that we keep only the best? (Unfortunately, this means fewer opportunities for dancers -- but maybe that should be the case what with some companies seemingly stocking the corps with mediocre dancers for grand productions);

2. What about trying a for-profit model forcing companies to re-focus their fundraising talents towards earning profits? (This may have an unintended result of seeing the rise of Smuin-like choreographers, i.e. "Zorro the Ballet");

3. Then again we could spend more money on education with the purpose of growing a dance-supportive community. How about forcing each company to turn over 5% of funds to school programs or better still add a sales tax (like the hotel tax in SF)? I'm not talking about the outreach that's taking place now but a true, systematic and consistent program to educate children and to some extent teenagers and adults.

<small>[ 20 March 2005, 10:01 PM: Message edited by: Azlan ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: It's contract time, again; you're gonna dis me
PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2005 12:53 am 
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Location: Canada
Two comments....

As to the "union busting" lawyers...AGMA is not the only union NYCB, or other companies, have to deal with - musicians are also unionized, as are stagehends etc. And the musicians union at NYCB has been one of the most vocal, and the only one to have actually gone on strike. BTW, if you look at the 990 tax forms, two musicians are among the five highest paid employees at NYCB, though I think in both cases the salaries are fair given time & energy committments and/or seniority.

Quote:
Let's do the math:

Scenario A: US Company
Annual budget = $10 million
Government funding = $1 million
Ticket sales = $2 million
Need to fundraise = $7 million
Let's say likely top ten donors each give $500,000 each. The rest consists of donations numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands contributed by several thousand people.

Scenario B: European Company
Annual budget = $10 million
Government funding = $8 million
Ticket sales = $1 million
Need to fundraise = $1 million
One donor gives $500,000. Another gives $500,000.
At least from my limited experience with European ballet companies, even if the non-governmental money comes from just a few sources, it's the government that really still has the big influence. Just about every penny of the 80% coming from the government must be accounted for, and the government has to be satisfied that the money is being well spent since government money comes from the citizens, and the government has to be accountable to the citizens.

And that other 20% of funding is more likely to come from corporate donors, who have to be accountable in their own right for their spending.

Not that funny business and donor shenanigans don't occur every in the world, but government funding does come at a price.

Kate


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