SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Nearly all of the Syracuse City Ballet dancers have been fired after going on strike for a number of reasons, including unsafe working conditions.
After going on strike for almost a week, five out of eight dancers from Syracuse City Ballet were fired. Another one was placed on administrate leave. The other two decided to return to work. This comes after all eight dancers expressed their concerns over what they say was a hostile work environment.
This group of men and women had been living their dream, working as professional dancers for the Syracuse City Ballet, until last week.
“We started getting threats of our contracts being terminated which is our livelihood, you know we don’t make any money, we do this because we love it,” said Lucy Hamilton, a former professional dancer for Syracuse City Ballet.
Hamilton, originally from Pennsylvania has been dancing since she was a little girl and has grown to love the Syracuse community. She started as a professional dancer for Syracuse City Ballet in 2021.
Many of the other dancers started at Syracuse City Ballet around the same time as Hamilton.
Hamilton says her livelihood was stolen from her and dance mates, after being fired for going on strike against their current working conditions, impacting their physical and emotional well-being as dancers.
“We tried to voice these concerns to our board of directors and we were told we are not to go over our artistic leadership head they even sent out two sets of anonymous surveys where we outlined in detail all of our concerns and they were never addressed,” said Hamilton.
Concerns they’ve had since 2021 after new artistic leadership took over. But they say nothing was ever done, even when the dancers shared their issues and offered solutions to the executive staff and board of directors.
“Most companies are run with a board of directors like ours and it just gets to a point where they have your dream in their hands and won’t listen to anything your saying and the kids you’re responsible for are saying and we just couldn’t do that anymore and we couldn’t understand in the negotiations how they could ask us to keep doing that and they did, and that’s why we got to this point,” said Hamilton.
After being ignored several times, the dancers say they got to their breaking point.
“We kind of sidelined it for a while until this past week where there were several incidents that led us to feel like we just couldn’t work in the studio with this leadership anymore and feel safe and productive to do our jobs,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton and the dancers began rehearsals for the Nutcracker in mid-October and are devastated to not be a part of this year’s production.
“It’s really emotional the only other time all of us hadn’t gotten to do Nutcracker was during COVID-19 and its reminiscence of that and just everything being out of your control,” said Hamilton.
Syracuse City Ballet is still holding its Nutcracker Performance. But only two out of the eight dancers are part of the performance.
As for now, the dancers have each other and are going to continue to dance. They are hoping the community will continue to support them and their passion.
Syracuse City Ballet provided NewsChannel 9 with the following statement:
Unfortunately, the Syracuse Ballet recently concluded that it had no option but to replace several dancers who refused to resume their duties in accordance with their contractual obligations. Despite good faith discussions held with these dancers to address their concerns, they made inappropriate demands on the Ballet’s management, demanding that we terminate one employee and effectively demote another.Syracuse City Ballet
They made clear that if the Ballet did not accede to their demands, they would not return to rehearsal and would not perform for the Ballet. Of course, this jeopardized the Ballet’s ability to proceed with its production of the Nutcracker, which is scheduled to commence on Dec. 1, 2023. After it was clear that all discussions with these dancers had reached an impasse and that they would not return to work unless their demands were met, the board made the decision to replace them so the show could go on. Yes, the nutcracker will proceed as planned. Some of the original dancers are still with the Ballet and will perform as planned, while others have been hired and are working diligently to be prepared for opening night.
The dancers who walked off the job on Nov. 12 did so after insisting they would not return to work unless their demands were met. They have recently attempted to characterize their actions as a “strike” due to “unsafe working conditions”. Based on the Ballet’s initial review of the matter, there do not appear to be any valid safety concerns which the Ballet has not addressed. Instead, it appears that the dancers are harboring a personal animus against the employees whose careers they seek to undermine. Still, the Ballet has engaged an independent investigator to meet with all Ballet employees and reach an independent conclusion on what is going on. Some of the same dancers who made complaints have refused to participate in the investigation.
In addition to suspending one of its employees, the dancers still refused to return to rehearsal. The Ballet will not terminate employees and replace them with the dancers’ desired replacements merely to appease a handful of dancers who do not appear to be acting in good faith. If this is a “strike”, the Ballet believes it is unlawful because employees do not get to demand who the Ballet can hire and fire based on their personal preferences. It is a sad day for not just the Ballet but the public when these dancers walked away from the show only days before it is scheduled to go public.
We are a small NFP consisting mostly of volunteers that for the past 25 years has worked hard to bring world-class ballet to our local community. We also care deeply about our professional, teen, and youth dancers who work hard all year to make it to the OnCenter Stage. We hope that the community will be patient and reserve judgment until the investigation concludes and will continue to support our cast for a magical holiday experience this year, and for many years to come.