Kennedy Center informs musicians they get no more paychecks hours after Pelosi’s $25 million bailout

(The Guardian/Kennedy Center video screenshots)

One of the public entities that benefited “bigly” from the emergency coronavirus spending bill signed into law last week has since turned around and essentially stuck it to nearly 100 workers by furloughing them.

That entity, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., received $25 million from the coronavirus bill thanks to lobbying by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

According to The Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had sought only to grant the center $1 million as a courtesy. But after the “socialist wish list” lobbying from Pelosi, who’d demanded $35 million, Congress settled at $25 million.

In spite of this generous Democrat-proposed bailout, the Kennedy Center has since furloughed off all 96 members of the National Symphony Orchestra.

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.

Speaking with the Beacon, an anonymous veteran member of the orchestra said she and her peers were “blindsided” by the decision.

“The member welcomed the bailout package as necessary funding for the arts, but was stunned that it would not be used to cover payment for the artists,” the Beacon reported.

“It’s very disappointing [that] they’re going to get that money and then drop us afterward,” the veteran member said. “The Kennedy Center blindsided us.”

Naturally, the center’s decision has spurred local union leaders into action.

“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,” Ed Malaga, president of the American Federation of Musicians’ D.C. branch, said in a statement.

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

Rutter reportedly pushed back on the criticism via a statement issued Saturday.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

In fairness to Rutter, she announced last Wednesday that she would be foregoing her own ridiculously generous $1.2 million salary:

But members of the NSO don’t appear to be impressed by the gesture.

“This edict from Kennedy Center’s President Deborah Rutter, out of the blue, is illegal in various forms and will certainly be contested by expensive lawyers,” one member, a cellist, reportedly wrote in a since-deleted Facebook page.

“Thanks (NOT) Deborah for your compassion for the musicians of your National Symphony Orchestra in this time of unprecedented peril. This is not OUR fault.”

The response on social media toward Rutter and the center have been similar.


The latter Twitter user was correct about the center being renovated. After receiving $41 million from taxpayers last year, the center went on to complete a $250 million renovation.


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