NEW YORK – Aside from the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, there is nothing that stands more for “New York City” than the Rockettes, an all-women’s dancing and singing troupe that has been performing at Rockefeller Center’s Radio Music hall for decades.
The performers are certainly familiar with their near neighbor, Donald Trump.
They balked when the Rockettes’ owner, James Dolan – without consulting them – announced they will be performing at Trump’s inaugural celebration.
They wanted no part of Trump or his inaugural, but felt they might lose their jobs if they didn’t show up for the festivities. Eighty of the Rockettes are part-timers or are on call, and their jobs were at risk if they turned the inaugural gig down. Thirteen are full time and work under a contract that says they are obligated to work at “all regularly scheduled performances.”
Despite their fears, many Rockettes spoke out, publicly. They told the press that they did not want to perform for a president-elect who is sexist, anti-Latino, anti-LGBT and who threatens their colleagues who are undocumented immigrants working as stage hands.
One Rockette, “Mary,” whose name was changed to protect her from retaliation, told Marie Claire magazine that her colleagues were crying through their Christmas show. The woman who danced next to her “felt she was being forced to perform for this monster.”
Mary, a part-timer, went on to say, “If I had to lose my job over this, I would. It’s too important.
“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue — this is a women’s rights issue,” Mary said. “This is an issue of racism and sexism, something that’s much bigger than politics.”
It was a public relations nightmare for Dolan.
That’s when representatives of the Rockettes’ union, the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA) met with Dolan – who also owns Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks and Cablevision – to discuss the matter.
The union negotiated a compromise with Dolan: any Rockette not wanting to take part in the inaugural is free to stay home, with no threat to her employment.
“AGVA is the exclusive bargaining representative for the Rockettes and for decades has worked tirelessly to protect them in the workplace and strived to negotiate the highest industry standard contracts. Madison Square Garden’s announcement that the Rockettes were being included in the presidential inaugural has brought up legitimate concern among our members, the theatrical community and the public at large,” the union said in a statement.
“We took this very seriously and immediately contacted Radio City for a meeting to address this volatile situation. This is always the first course of action in a labor-management issue or dispute. Fortunately, the company has agreed that all participation in this particular event will be voluntary. We are greatly relieved and hope to work with our members to inform them and alleviate the anxiety and fears this has caused,” a statement from AGVA added.
As of New Year’s Day, no Rockette has publically volunteered to dance at the inauguration.