And Nora Heiber, national dance executive for American Guild of Musical Artists, said salaries for Ballet West's artistic director and top management were gobbling up a disproportionate amount of company resources.
Management countered that its salaries are in line with national averages, and said union demands are exorbitant and could bankrupt the company.
This is the first time Ballet West dancers have been represented by the American Guild of Musical Artists.
Previously, Ballet West dancers negotiated through an in-house labor association. The dancers sought help from AGMA after learning late in 2004 that Ballet West planned to trim four weeks from its dancers' contracts for the 2005-06 season, reduce the number of dancers and eliminate the company's fall program.
AGMA wants the reductions reversed and an 18 percent raise given to dancers over the next three years, but Carol Carter, chairwoman of Ballet West's board of trustees, said the reductions are essential. Ballet West's annual budget of $6 million has run deficits of several hundred thousand dollars during past three years, and its line of credit is almost maxed out. Like other major arts groups in Utah and nationwide, the company struggles to maintain audiences and revenues.
Disparity between top staff salaries and those for dancers is part of the problem, Heiber said, but Carter believes Ballet West pays its dancers, managers and artistic staff fairly.
"We've done research - gone to industry records of what is appropriate," she said.
David Brown, executive director of Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, said Ballet West salaries are near national averages, according to his experience.
"Comparisons need to be relative to what the job is and what's necessary to retain qualified and experienced people in that role," Brown said.
For now, the complicated dance of contract negotiation is at intermission while Ballet West management seeks legal counsel.
Ballet West salaries
* Artistic Director Jonas Kåge, $143,000;
* Executive Director J hann Jacobs, $123,000;
* CFO Carol Wood, $67,000 (52 weeks at up to 60 hours per week);
* Average salary for dancers: $28,000 (35 weeks at 30 hours per week).