After receiving a controversial $25 million bailout (which would pay for a lot of respirators), the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts notified nearly 100 musicians with the National Symphony Orchestra that they won’t receive paychecks after April 3rd, according to the orchestra’s COVID-19 Advisory Committee obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
“The Covid-19 Advisory Committee was broadsided today during our conversation with [Kennedy Center President] Deborah Rutter,” reads the email. “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 went out to members on Friday evening, shortly after President Trump signed the $2 trillion CARES Act, a stimulus package intended to provide relief to people left unemployed by the coronavirus pandemic. Congress included $25 million in taxpayer funding for the Kennedy Center, a provision that raised eyebrows from both Democrats and Republicans, but ultimately won support from President Trump. The bailout was designed to “cover operating expenses required to ensure the continuity of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and its affiliates, including for employee compensation and benefits, grants, contracts, payments for rent or utilities, fees for artists or performers,” according to the law’s text. The arts organization decided that the relief did not extend to members of the National Symphony Orchestra, its house orchestra. –Washington Free Beacon
“Everyone should proceed as if their last paycheck will be April 3,” the email continues. “We understand this will come [as a] shock to all of you, as it did to us.”
One veteran member of the orchestra (who we suspect forwarded the email to the Beacon) told the outlet that the decision has “blindsided” musicians.
“It’s very disappointing [that] they’re going to get that money and then drop us afterward,” the musician said. “The Kennedy Center blindsided us.”
The cente, which received $41 million from taxpayers in 2019, just completed a $250 million renovation – however it faced insurmountable deficits after shuttering its doors on March 12 due to COVID-19.
Rutter, meanwhile, told the Washington Post that she would forego her $1.2 million salary while the JFK center was closed – while orchestra members bristled at the idea of doing the same.
“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 sections of the [agreement],” reads a grievance filed by the orchestra, claiming that the center has violated its contract with members that stipulates members be given at least six-weeks notice before they can stop paychecks.
“There is no provision of our collective bargaining agreement that allows the Kennedy Center to decide to stop paying us with only one week of notice,” the email says. “While we fully expect that an arbitrator would agree that management violated the CBA and that we are entitled to continued salary and benefits, this process takes time.“