The locked-out dancers of the American Ballet Theater yesterday unanimously rejected an ultimatum by management that they either immediately agree to ABT's latest contract offer -- estimated to be a 32 percent package increase over three years -- or the ballet company would cancel its four-week Kennedy Center season.
The vote was 72 to 0 against the ABT package. Later in the day, however, an ABT official suggested that if the dancers agreed to arbitrate by Sunday night, the Kennedy Center season could be saved. The dancers' negotiating committee, however, rejected the suggestion.
"We're not going to wait beyond Sunday," ABT's General Manager Joyce Moffatt stated. Meanwhile, ABT has issued layoff notices to 11 members of its New York office staff: the employes have been told they will be furloughed beginning Nov. 23 if no settlement with the dancers is reached.
The Kennedy Center's Martin Feinstein said last night, "We will now start exploring" the availability of attracttions to replace ABT for the four-week run secheduled to begin Dec. 4.
The attorney for the dancers, Leonard Leibowitz, called ABT's lockout and threat to cancel the Kennedy Center season "an attempt to starve us out. There has clearly been a lack of respect for the dancers -- the lockout, the ultimatum accompanied by nothing but threats," he said. "This is a starve-out."
Leibowitz noted that the dancers had been willing to go back to work while negotiations continued. The dancers, who do not work a full year, had been receiving unemployment insurance payments since mid-September. Those benefits were cut off on Oct. 29 as a result of a New York State rule prohibiting such payments for the first seven weeks of a labor dispute.
At the dancers' caucus yesterday afternoon there was cheering, applause and foot-stomping when the results of the vote were announced. Soloist Hilda Morales said the dancers "are trying to negotiate our way out of slavery." Other dancers expressed similar views saying "we work for almost nothing," and "we've been treated like garbage during the negotiations".
The dancers have also been asking for job security, in light of a rumor that Mikhail Baryshnikov, who will become the company's artistic director next September, intends to replace a large number of company members. Baryshnikov could not be reached for comment, but his spokesman denied the rumor.
The dancers yesterday said they have reduced their demands by one-third -- while holding firm to their salary, per diem allowance and supplementary unemployment benefits requests. They are now asking that the increases be spread over three years instead of two. They estimated the cost of their proposal to be a 66 percent package increase over the three-year period.