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Kennedy Center musicians speak out as orchestra furloughed after $25 million bailout went to venue

Kennedy Center musicians filed a grievance against the Kennedy Center Tuesday and plan to seek arbitration as they were furloughed after the federal government approved sending $25 million in funding to the performing arts center in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

Robert Rearden, 38, who plays the french horn in the National Symphony Orchestra and co-chairs the Orchestra Committee, told DailyMail.com Wednesday that musicians were ‘relieved’ when the $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed with the measure for the center, anticipating the funds would go to all Kennedy Center staff.

‘The $25 million is something that we think is great because it is very clearly outlined in the language of the bill that it is to go toward employees,’ Rearden said.

‘It’s supposed to help all employees – there are many who have been furloughed,’ he added, mentioning that the 100 musicians in the orchestra are not the only Kennedy Center employees who have been furloughed.

The center’s board includes Donald Trump allies Jon Voight and Mike Huckabee.

Although employees anticipated the millions would help fuel their salaries as performances were canceled and the Kennedy Center shut down, the whole orchestra was furloughed – along with 600 other venue workers.

‘In reading the bill it certainly would give some relief to anybody reading it that it would give help to employees on the payroll,’ Rearden said.

‘I don’t think anybody’s breathing a sigh of relief in this environment here, but it was nice to see it was included in the language of the bill very clearly,’ he added.

The National Symphony Orchestra has submitted a grievance against the Kennedy Center for furloughing employees, which is against its collective bargaining agreement

The National Symphony Orchestra has submitted a grievance against the Kennedy Center for furloughing employees, which is against its collective bargaining agreement

Robert Rearden (pictured), a french horn player and co-chairs the Orchestra Committee, told DailyMail.com that when the $25 million measure for Kennedy Center passed, musicians were 'relieved'

Robert Rearden (pictured), a french horn player and co-chairs the Orchestra Committee, told DailyMail.com that when the $25 million measure for Kennedy Center passed, musicians were ‘relieved’

The National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center’s in-house orchestra, sent a letter claiming their employer cannot withhold payment to its 100 musicians because of the terms of their collective bargaining agreement.

Steve Wilson, bassoonist and fellow co-chair of the Orchestra Committee lamented in a statement to DailyMail.com that the salary suspension came just hours after Donald Trump approved a measure to grant the Kennedy Center $25 million to help pay employees.

‘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 healthcare past May,’ Wilson said.

The Kennedy Center announced last month that it was cancelling all of its public events through May 10, but Rearden admitted it was unclear how long the center plans to furlough its employees.

‘As we continue to prioritize the health and well-being of our patrons, artists, staff, volunteers, and community at large, the Kennedy Center has canceled all public performances and events scheduled through Sunday, May 10, 2020, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19,’ it reads on the Kennedy Center website.

The NSO plays at the Kennedy Center regularly with guest conductors, like Gianandrea Noseda, and also travels to perform at historic venues like Carnegie Hall in New York City. 

Some GOP lawmakers were perplexed that Trump so easily approved the Kennedy Center measure passing in the $2.2 trillion stimulus package.

The Kennedy Center is an entity of the federal government, and in March 2019 Trump appointed several allies to the board of trustees.

The political appointments included former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Republican actor Jon Voight, Kelly Roberts, a hotelier and onetime nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to Slovenia; Carl Lindner III, co-CEO of Ohio-based American Financial Group and Trump super-PAC donor, among others.

The list of donors for Kennedy Center also includes Lindner contributing $1 million and another $1 million from the Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, a year before she became Trump’s Education Secretary.

The Kennedy Center Honors also boasts a star-studded night every year where celebrities and politicians alike flood the venue to honor a group of entertainers, actors and musicians for lifetime achievements. 

Members of the Kennedy Center board of trustees, appointed by Donald Trump, include former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (pictured) and Republican actor Jon Voight

Members of the Kennedy Center board of trustees, appointed by Donald Trump, include former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (pictured) and Republican actor Jon Voight

In a grievance letter sent to Kennedy Center management, representatives for the 100-member National Symphony Orchestra disputed the legality of the Kennedy Center deciding to ‘suspend’ their contract in order to furlough employees. 

‘In particular, we write to respond to the Kennedy Center’s position, as expressed on our call yesterday, that it unilaterally can ‘suspend’ the parties’ entire collective bargaining agreement because of ‘exigent circumstances’ on one week’s notice. That position is baseless,’ a letter addressed to Kennedy Center management argued Tuesday.

Rearden claims that the terms of the collective bargaining agreement requires the Kennedy Center to give all members of the orchestra 6 weeks of written notice that they are being furloughed.

He added that Kennedy Center would have to fulfill certain financial obligations in order to suspend the contract.

‘They have not invoked that section. There’s no legal basis to suspend the contract,’ Rearden asserted.

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Written by Angle News

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