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Kennedy Center abruptly lays off entire orchestra hours after receiving $25 million taxpayer bailout



MIKE THEILER/AFP via Getty Images

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts informed musicians with the National Symphony Orchestra on Friday that they would be laid off next week, just hours after the Kennedy Center received a $25 million bailout from the federal government on the taxpayer dime.

The nearly 100 member symphony will no longer receive paychecks after April 3, an email obtained by the Washington Free Beacon said.

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

More from the Free Beacon:

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.

The Kennedy Center is currently scheduled to re-open on May 10. But that may not happen given COVID-19 projections. If the center is closed beyond May, the musicians would also lose their health insurance.

Ed Malaga, the union leader who represents the musicians, blasted the move as possibly illegal.

"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. That agreement specifically requires that the Center provide six weeks' notice before it can stop paying musicians for economic reasons," he said, the Washington Post reported.

Rutter defended her decision, saying the "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."

According to the Post, Rutter said the taxpayer bailout would "provide long-term cash flow for essential personnel to ensure that we can reopen the Center and re-employ our staff and musicians."

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