As coronavirus shutdowns continue, we’re seeing some genuinely positive interaction between employers and musician employees working toward mutually agreeable solutions to the sensitive issue of payroll.
Outside of those scenarios, I’m seeing one of the most derogatory old-school stereotypes emerge as justification for cancelling musician pay entirely: musicians only work 20 hours per week.
This twisted notion assumes that musicians are only paid for the time they are on stage rehearsing or performing and all the time spent maintaining skills and practicing doesn’t factor into the equation.
Even though this has been debunked for decades, we’re starting to see the same harmful perspective creep into reasons provided for cutting off musician employee pay during shut downs while other options exist.
One of the more notable instances came from Kennedy Center president, Deborah Rutter, when defending her decision to shut down pay with one week notice. That was coupled with announcing that health insurance coverage would be cancelled a month later, during what is expected to be around the outbreak’s peak.
“Without concerts and the corresponding ticket revenue, it is an unsustainable strategy to pay musicians to stay at home during this forced and still undefined quarantine period.”
The message is clear: if you aren’t playing revenue generating concerts, you have no value; endowment, debt restructuring, and government bail-out resources be damned. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the National Symphony Orchestra musicians are filing a grievance and an already stressful situation will go from bad to worse without the employer changing direction.
What’s really disappointing here is the lost opportunity to be genuinely creative with solutions.
If there were ever a time to ask for and receive flexibility to engage in activity that would otherwise run afoul of collective bargaining agreement restrictions, it’s now.
Yes, stakeholders need to share the pain equally during this period of extreme hardship. But to say there is no value to be found in finding ways to get musicians and administrators working remotely to engage patrons and fulfill mission driven objectives is remarkably shortsighted.
Make no mistake, times are dire. To be blunt, money will run out for groups the longer coronavirus closures continue. When it does, difficult choices are made. But shuttering an institution and tossing stakeholders out without even finding a way to extend health care benefits during a pandemic is a stunning display of myopic leadership.
We’ll be taking a closer look at the Kennedy Center’s situation soon. In the meantime, let’s take a step back from ugly rationale rooted in the very worst stereotypes.