Solidarity Foils Atlanta Ballet’s Effort to Replace Striking Musicians

In The Key Of Solidarity

Volume C, No. 10October, 2000

The stakes escalated this summer, as the strike by Atlanta Ballet musicians entered its second year – but international solidarity has blocked management’s latest attempt to break the strike. (As this issue went to press, negotiations were scheduled to resume on Sept. 18.)

On Aug. 14, management told the musicians’ negotiating committee that it had hired an orchestra from the Czech Republic to replace them. The ballet had arranged for Poksound, based in Prague, to supply 44 musicians for Romeo and Juliet (which is to open Oct. 6) and 25 for The Nutcracker (opening Dec. 1). Traditionally, the Atlanta Ballet has employed a 48-member orchestra.

Local 148-462 immediately filed unfair labor practice charges at the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that management had refused to bargain or to provide timely information about its plans to hire the Czech orchestra.

Jean Vincent, General Secretary of the Paris-based International Federation of Musicians, quickly communicated with the head of the Czech musicians’ union, informing him of the 11-month strike and the problems that might ensue if Czech musicians were used to break it. Meanwhile the local’s attorney, Robert Golito, wrote the Prague-based company to let them know about the dispute, and warn them that musicians would have to cross picket lines in order to perform.

On Sept. 4, lawyers for the ballet and the local received a letter from Josef Pokluda of Poksound, canceling the engagement because of concerns the engagement would violate international labor laws. He noted that he had not been aware of the circumstances when he entered into the agreement.

The ballet had suffered another setback when the Indigo Girls, who are based in Atlanta and are also members of Local 148-462, informed management that they could not take part in a planned collaboration set for March 2001. The singers expressed concern about the strike when the plan was first announced in June, their manager said, and had hoped they could be a positive influence in bringing about a settlement. But they cancelled the deal because they did not want to be seen as supporting management’s position.

The key issue in the strike, which began on Sept. 1, 1999, is management’s refusal to make pension fund contributions.