The opening of the Joffrey Ballet’s coming season could be canceled because of a contract dispute between the ballet company, based in Chicago, and the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents the dancers.
The Joffrey’s three-year contract with the guild expired last
Thursday, and with no new agreement in place, the group sent a letter to
its dancers Friday, warning them of the possible shutdown, The Chicago Sun-Times first reported the news early Monday.
“We have, with great reluctance, been forced to cancel the beginning
of our 2011-2012 Season,” the letter stated, the Sun-Times reported.
“Without any agreement with your Union, we simply cannot consider going
forward with our season under the cloud of a lingering threat that, at
any time, AGMA could shut it down with a strike.”
In a phone interview Monday, Christopher Clinton Conway, executive
director of the Joffrey, said that there had not been any back-and-forth
between the groups, or any discussion of an extension to the current
contract. “It’s not that we don’t agree with what’s been coming back to
us, it’s just that nothing’s coming back to us,” he said. “We are
awaiting any response from AGMA and its representative, that’s really
been the complication. It’s been us negotiating with a wall.”
But in another phone interview, Barbara J. Hillman, a lawyer
representing AGMA, disputed that account. “We’ve been communicating
through a mediator” for the last several months, she said. “We were in
negotiations, we were hopeful of getting a contract.” She added that she
and the dancers were blindsided by the letter. “ We were in the process
of getting a response to the company when we heard about this lockout,”
she said. “We were totally surprised by this.”
Mr. Conway said the Joffrey was seeking a five-year contract, with
provisions for annual pay raises for its dancers, and an increase in
weekly rehearsal time, to 30 hours from 25, to bring the company in line
with other dance groups. The company’s first scheduled performance, and
the first threatened by the cancellation, is Aug. 20 at the Blossom
Festival in Ohio with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, an annual event.
“From there we would begin canceling things” depending on whether an
agreement could be reached, Mr. Conway said. “But we will not begin the
season without an agreement.”
Ms. Hillman said that the sticking point in the negotiations included
the increase in rehearsal time, and that the suggested annual pay raise
— 2 percent a year for five years — was not commensurate with the added
work. Another sticking point was the use of ballet students rather than
professional dancers to perform.
Though the letter notified company members that they must empty their
lockers and turn in their keys by Thursday, the dancers are on a
regularly-scheduled break until July 25. Both Mr. Conway and Ms. Hillman
said they were hopeful that an agreement could be reached upon their
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