National Symphony Orchestra Members Claim Kennedy Center’s Actions Violate CBA

By David Salazar

A few days ago, the Kennedy Center announced that it would be furloughing off musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra, despite receiving $25 million in support from the federal stimulus package.

Now, the musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra are firing back and questioning the legality of the decision, which would see the members receive their final paychecks on April 3. The musicians sent a legal letter noting that the Kennedy Center cannot simply suspend the collective bargain agreement between the two parties for “exigent circumstances” with only one week’s notice.

The letter notes that the Center’s decision is in “plain violation” of Sections 2.8, 2.9, and 2.10 of the CBA which requires the Center to pay weekly scale and seniority o each musician of the Orchestra. The letter also notes that if the Center were unable to fulfill the financial obligation, the CBA, under Section 9.10, requires that the Center provide each member of the Orchestra with a six weeks’ notice.

“The Center’s decision not to pay musicians after this week is prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act, which makes it violation of federal labor law for an employer to make unilateral modifications to a collective bargaining agreement during its term,” says the letter.

“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,” added Steve Wilson, bassoonist and Co-Chair of the Orchestra Committee, in a press release. “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.

“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.”

For its part the Kennedy Center has revealed that the $25 million designated for the Kennedy Center in the federal stimulus package will save jobs and ensure jobs for our furloughed staff to come back to once the pandemic subsides and we are able to reopen for business. The following breakdown illustrates how the Kennedy Center will use these funds to cover essential expenses over the next six months:


Employee Compensation                    $12,750,000

Employee Benefits                               $7,500,000

Artist Contracts and Fees                    $1,750,000

Deep Cleaning                                     $250,000

IT to improve telework capacity           $250,000

Rent or utilities                                     $1,000,000

Information Technology                       $750,000

Other Admin Expenses            $750,000    

TOTAL                                                $25,000,000