The National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) teamed up with Washington D.C. law firm Bredhoff & Kaiser to fire back at Kennedy Performing Arts Center’s President Deborah Rutter for her decision to furlough the orchestra.
According to an email obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, nearly 100 musicians will no longer receive a paycheck beginning April 3, despite the $25 million taxpayer bailout provided by Nancy Pelosi in the latest federal stimulus bill. According to the NSO, Rutter allegedly threatened to take away the health care of musicians if the pandemic keeps the Kennedy Center doors closed past May 1.
Gov. Ralph Northam in the nearby state of Virginia issued a shelter-in-place executive order effective until June 10, meaning the Kennedy Center will likely remain closed as the performing arts hub is deemed nonessential.
The latest bailout bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, specifically allocated $25 million to the Kennedy Center to help keep its facility and employees operational during these uncertain times.
According to the law’s text, the relief funds should be used to cover operating expenses required to ensure the continuity of the Kennedy Center and its affiliates, including for employee compensation and benefits, grants, contracts, payments for rent or utilities, fees for artists or performers, information technology, and other administrative expenses.
Despite provisions to prevent unemployment, Rutters axed the NSO and other part-time and full-time employees.
In a letter to the Kennedy Center, attorneys argued it cannot suspend the NSO’s collective bargaining agreement even in unprecedented circumstances.
“We write to respond to the Kennedy Center’s position,” the letter reads, “that it unilaterally can ‘suspend’ the parties’ entire collective bargaining agreement (‘CBA’) because off ‘exigent circumstances’ on one week’s notice. That position is baseless.”
Steve Wilson, NSO’s bassoonist and co-chair of the Orchestra Committee, said Rutter’s decision to stop paying them is illegal.
“On the same day that President Trump signed the stimulus package that would send $25 million to the Kennedy Center for, among other expenses, employee compensation, Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter illegally decided to stop paying us, and refused to promise to continue our health care past May,” Wilson said. “It is unfortunate that Rutter and Kennedy Center management have opted to violate our contract and federal labor law rather than come to us to discuss a collective solution.”
Wilson continued by saying he understands the circumstances are unprecedented, but the Kennedy Center should be willing to discuss these changes with the NSO instead of cut them off.
“We understand that the COVID crisis affects everyone. That’s why we have, throughout, been willing to collaborate and discuss ways to work with Kennedy Center management during this challenging time. Illegally breaking our contract isn’t an option here,” Wilson said. “Much smaller and less-resourced organizations than the Kennedy Center have managed to take care of their workers. We’d hope that the Kennedy Center — part of the federal government — could be a standard-bearer, rather than leading the race to the bottom.”