News & Politics

NSO Musicians Call Kennedy Center’s Decision to Suspend Their Pay “Baseless”

Photograph by Jeff Elkins
Coronavirus 2020

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Musicians from National Symphony Orchestra have challenged the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ decision to furlough them. In a letter to Kennedy Center management, lawyers for the musicians’ union, District of Columbia Federation of Musicians, Local 161-710, say the arts center’s position that it can unilaterally stop paying the musicians is “baseless.”

The union’s contract with the Kennedy Center requires six week’s notice to each member if the arts center elects to terminate its obligations under a collective bargaining agreement. The union lawyers write that what they characterize as the Kennedy Center’s position that it can stop paying musicians because of a financial emergency violates federal labor law as well.

The Kennedy Center initially told the musicians it planned to discontinue their healthcare benefits at the end of May, a position it changed Tuesday with the announcement that it intended to furlough about 60 percent of its staff and detailed how it planned to spend the $25 million it received in the most recent federal stimulus bill.  “We understand that the COVID crisis affects everyone,” bassoonist and co-chair of the orchestra committee Steve Wilson says in a statement. “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.”

“The Kennedy Center’s priority is to get through this closure and bring our staff, musicians, and artists back to work as soon as possible,” a spokesperson for the Kennedy Center tells Washingtonian.

Here’s the lawyers’ letter:

2020_03_31 Letter Re NSO Musician Grievance by Washingtonian Magazine on Scribd

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.