The American Federation of Musicians filed a labor practice charge against HBO. It claimed that The Gilded Age’s 10-part miniseries was shot in New York and that the musicians were fired for asking to be represented by the union. The National Labor Relations Board was charged.
The union released a statement saying that the musicians were informed by HBO that they would not contract with the AFM. They were then told that they were no longer employed to produce the show. “The musicians of the orchestra had requested to be treated with the same respect as other craft workers on the set and to be represented in the union.
According to the union, 23 musicians were hired to “sideline” the period piece. This means that they would be recording the playing of their instruments and miming it on camera. According to the union contract, when more than one musician is hired to “sideline”, they will each receive a minimum of $242 per day plus pension and health benefits.
The series is set in Troy, NY in the 1880s. According to a traffic advisory issued by the city, street closures and parking restrictions were in effect for the production of the show on May 20. According to the union, musicians were already receiving paychecks, costumes fittings, and Covid-19 testing when they were fired.
Ray Hair, AFM international president, stated that the HBO miniseries The Gilded Age is violating workers’ rights to choose the union they want, negotiate with that union and allow musicians to work under fair contracts that are consistent with industry standards for professional musicians. “Musicians should be treated as workers in film and television production. It is outrageous that a multibillion-dollar corporation would refuse musicians wages, benefits, or working conditions that are covered by AFM agreements.”
The series featured musicians from the Tri-State area.
“We are deeply disappointed that HBO has chosen to replace us on an orchestral music job that, for most, was the first that we received since the pandemic started,” stated Theo Zimmerman, a cellist who is also a member of AFM Local 802 New York City. It is a bad feeling to learn that the American Federation of Musicians will not allow you to represent them in a production of such scale.
JJ Johnson, a violist who is a member of AFM Local 78, Syracuse, NY, says, “It’s more important than ever that workers have the rights to come together in solidarity, unionize to protect themselves and their working conditions and their industry.” We are being retaliated for fighting for our rights and those of union members. HBO cannot bully people into accepting substandard conditions after being out of work for a year due to pandemic restrictions.
Norman Thibodeau of AFM Local 14 in Albany said, “I have been looking forward to this project and even worked out the music on the flute from the late nineteenth century.” “I have performed wedding ceremonies which have offered better working conditions than the ones provided by HBO. It is absurd that a company would put so much effort into making a historically accurate performance only to then abandon the musicians’ treatment, which should not pose a significant problem for an ethical employer.