We were told by Democrats that the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts needed millions in the coronavirus relief bill to keep paying its workers and performers, yet just hours after the bill was signed by President Donald Trump, the center told orchestra members saying they would not be paid until it reopened.
The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris reported Saturday that members of the National Symphony Orchestra were told Friday night from the orchestra’s Covid-19 Advisory Committee saying they would not receive a paycheck after April 3 until the cultural center reopened.
“The Covid-19 Advisory Committee was broadsided today during our conversation with [Kennedy Center President] Deborah Rutter,” an email from the Advisory Committee said. “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.”
“Everyone should proceed as if their last paycheck will be April 3,” the email added. “We understand this will come [as a] shock to all of you, as it did to us.”
The Kennedy Center will be provided $25 million as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package intended to help the economy during the coronavirus outbreak. While the center has not received the money yet, it was specifically mentioned in the bill, meaning it should be getting the help relatively soon.
A veteran orchestra member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Free Beacon that musicians were “blindsided” by the decision to halt paychecks after April 3.
“It’s very disappointing [that] they’re going to get that money and then drop us afterward,” the musician told the outlet. “The Kennedy Center blindsided us.”
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The Kennedy Center, which recently completed a $250 million renovation, received $41 million from taxpayers in 2019, but faced massive deficits after shutting its doors on March 12 due to the coronavirus outbreak. President Rutter went on a media blitz to highlight the cultural hub’s struggles, telling the Washington Post that she would forego her $1.2 million salary during the closure. Members of the orchestra chafed at the notion that they should do the same—particularly because they also face the prospect of losing their health benefits after May 31.
The Free Beacon also reported that the orchestra members’ union filed a grievance alleging the Kennedy Center must follow the collective bargaining agreement it signed.
“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],” the grievance said, according to a copy obtained by the Free Beacon.
“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 grievance said. “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.”