Home News Kennedy Center lays off musicians after receiving $25 Million in stimulus bill

Kennedy Center lays off musicians after receiving $25 Million in stimulus bill

by Mike Santorini

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts said it will halt paychecks for the National Symphony Orchestra members, shortly after President Trump signed a bill that provided the performing arts center with $25 million in taxpayer money.

In detail: The orchestra’s Covid-19 Advisory Committee sent an email to 96 musicians on Friday, informing them that their checks would be cut off starting April 3, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

“The Covid-19 Advisory Committee was broadsided today during our conversation with [Kennedy Center President] Deborah Rutter. Ms. Rutter abruptly informed us today that the last paycheck for all musicians and librarians will be April 3 and that we will not be paid again until the Center reopens,” the email said. “Everyone should proceed as if their last paycheck will be April 3. We understand this will come [as a] shock to all of you, as it did to us.”

Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter told orchestra leaders in a conference call that they will resume sending paychecks to the affected 96 members once the center opens again, the Washington Post reported. The John F. Kennedy center closed on March 12 and canceled all performances and public events through May 10.  If the center doesn’t reopen until the end of May, the laid-off musicians will lose their health insurance as well.

The union filed a  grievance to NSO’s executive director Gary Ginstling suggesting the move might be illegal. They pointed to the orchestra’s four-year collective bargaining agreement which says the performing arts center has to give musicians at least a 6-weeks notice before stopping their paychecks.

“While the Union understands that the Kennedy Center has decided to cancel all performances through May 10, 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those cancellations do not give the Association any contractual basis for failing to comply” with the collective bargaining agreement, the grievance says.

“This decision, from an organization with an endowment of nearly $100 million, is not only outrageous — coming after the musicians had expressed their willingness to discuss ways to accommodate the Kennedy Center during this challenging time — it is also blatantly illegal under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement,” said Ed Malaga, president of Local 161-710 of the American Federation of Musicians.

“That agreement specifically requires that the Center provide six weeks’ notice before it can stop paying musicians for economic reasons.”

The center’s director argues that the funds provided via the recently-signed bill are “long-term cash flow for essential personnel to ensure that we can reopen the Center and re-employ our staff and musicians.”

“Without concerts and the corresponding ticket revenue, it is an unsustainable strategy to pay musicians to stay at home during this forced and still undefined quarantine period,” Rutter said on Saturday.

“These cuts combined with anticipated administrative staff furloughs and potential layoffs may seem drastic, however, we know the only way through this is for all union and non-union employees to participate in the solution. The other unions within the Center have also experienced this furlough and are not or will not be receiving compensation.”

Worth noting: Last week, Rutter told her staff that she’s giving up her $1.2 million salary amid the crisis.

The legislation, which President Trump signed into law on Friday, is an economic relief bill that would give $25 million in federal funding to the Kennedy Center. The inclusion of the performing arts center in the bill was one of the key issues that prompted heated negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The initial draft suggested providing the center with $35 million.

President Trump defended the decision to add the center in the emergency relief provisions, saying it “suffered greatly.”

“I’m a fan of that,” Trump said of the funding. “I haven’t spent time there because I’m far too busy. I’d love to go there evenings, but I’m too busy doing things,” he said. “The Kennedy Center, they do a beautiful job, an incredible job.”

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