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Ballet Dancers In Washington Choose AGMA

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The dancers and apprentices employed by the Washington Ballet in Washington, D.C., have voted 18 to 2 in favor of collective bargaining representation by the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), according to the union, which announced the voting results on Tuesday. The vote took place in a secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board on Mon., Feb. 14.

AGMA represents dancers and opera singers in the United States. In early December 2004, the ballet company's dancers asked AGMA to represent them and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement on their behalf.

The dancers expressed concerns to the union about "inappropriate treatment by the Ballet's artistic director" and "the Ballet's apparent disregard for the dancers' safety, issues traditionally addressed in AGMA contracts," according to the union. "The dancers complained about a significantly large number of injuries due to haphazard, last-minute scheduling of long rehearsals and the requirement that they dance those rehearsals full out even though fatigued. Likewise, the dancers felt that the Ballet had further endangered dancers by manipulating work rules and through a long-standing disregard for dancers' problems."

AGMA filed its petition in late December after the dance company's management refused to recognize the guild's attempt to organize a union election and negotiate for the dancers. Following the filing, management informed the guild that it would "pursue every legal avenue available to it to resist unionization," according to AGMA.

A January Hearing

An NLRB hearing took place on Jan. 5 to determine an appropriate bargaining unit. On Jan. 19, the NLRB's regional director, rejecting each of the company's legal arguments, directed that an election take place among "all full- and part-time dancers employed by the Washington Ballet."

Following the NLRB decision, the website Playbill Arts quoted Jason Palmquist, executive director of the Washington Ballet, as saying, "The National Labor Relations Board process is one designed to ensure that employee rights are respected, and the setting of a democratic, secret ballot election is simply the next step in that process. The Washington Ballet, however, respectfully disagrees with the [NLRB's] understanding of our re-employment process. The Washington Ballet unwaveringly supports our dancers' right to decide whether or not they want to be represented by a union, but we want that decision to be one based on all the facts."

On Feb. 15, the day after the NLRB vote by the dancers, AGMA advised the ballet's executive director that he must "refrain from undertaking any unilateral actions with regard to the wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment of any dancer or apprentice" without bargaining with the union. The guild also stressed that "all of your tour contracts for Italy and all negotiations with regard to individual contracts with dancers are subject to collective bargaining negotiations with AGMA."

The Washington Ballet company employs 20 dancers. Its studio company has 10 dancers, as well as three student trainees, according to the organization's website.

Founded in 1976 by the American ballet pioneer Mary Day and under Septime Webre's artistic directorship since 1999, the Washington Ballet refers to itself as "an ensemble of powerfully athletic classical ballet dancers performing a repertory of new work and creativity."

The company presents a full season each year at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Warner Theatre, and the Center for the Arts at George Mason University, and performs biennially at the Joyce Theater in New York City. The company has toured nationally and internationally throughout the world and at the 17th International Dance Festival in Havana, Cuba.

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