Kennedy Center Announces It Will No Longer Pay Musicians Despite Pelosi’s $25 Mil Bailout

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. has announced it will no longer continue paying its musicians despite being a recipient of a $25 million bailout in Congress’ recent stimulus bill.

As BizPac Review reports, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed passage of the $2.2 trillion economic relief bill for three days to include the Kennedy Center funding, as well as some other clauses. Pelosi initially requested $35 million to the center, dwarfing the $1 million Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell pitched as a courtesy.

The final bill (which President Trump signed into law) settled on $25 million that would go to the Kennedy Center.

The Free Beacon reports the text of the law specifically says 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.”

The Washington Post reports the Kennedy Center faced the difficult challenge of whether to make cuts or not, like many companies across the country. Bracing for potential cuts, Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter initially announced she would be foregoing her salary amid the ongoing coronavirus:

Looking at a $20 million deficit that could balloon to $55 million by the end of summer, Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter knows that painful cuts are on the horizon.

So she slashed her salary first.

After taking a 50 percent cut last week, Rutter told her staff Monday that she would waive her entire salary until the covid-19 pandemic recedes.

“It’s a leadership issue. This is what a leader does,” Rutter, who earns about $1.2 million annually, said in an interview Thursday. Kennedy Center Board Chairman David Rubenstein advised her not to, but she did it anyway.

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“I need to be the first person,” Rutter said, alluding to the possible sacrifices that lie ahead. “My hope is that these circumstances don’t last forever, but I’m going to be a realist.”

The Kennedy Center ultimately opted to furlough all 96 musicians making up the National Symphony Orchestra.

BizPac Review reports in addition to the musicians no longer receiving pay, they will likely also lose their health-care benefits:

The announcement was reportedly made to members of the National Symphony Orchestra in an email sent shortly after the emergency bill was signed into law, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

“The Covid-19 Advisory Committee was broadsided today during our conversation with [Kennedy Center President] Deborah Rutter,” the email reportedly read. “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. We understand this will come [as a] shock to all of you, as it did to us.”

It gets worse. The Post confirmed Saturday that during a conference call later Friday evening, Rutter warned that the 96 affected artists may also lose their health-care benefits if the center doesn’t reopen by the end of May.

The Free Beacon also reports, citing a member of the orchestra who wished to remain anonymous, that the decision to lay off the musicians “blindsided” them.

“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.”

According to the report, some of the laid-off musicians are taking legal action against the Kennedy Center as they stopped paying them with only one weeks’ notice.

From the Free Beacon:

The orchestra is only a few months into a four-year collective bargaining agreement it signed in September 2019. The orchestra filed a grievance, released Saturday, saying that the center violated the contract, which stipulates that artists be given at least six-weeks notice before paychecks can stop.

While orchestra members are confident in their case, committee members said the decision would not likely come for at least two weeks.

The grievance argues: “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].”