A new series at HBO is facing charges of unlawful labor practices. According to Deadline, The Gilded Age is being accused of allegedly wrongfully terminating a group of musicians for applying for union representation. The American Federation of Musicians filed the charge with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of 23 musicians.
“The producers of the HBO miniseries The Gilded Age are violating workers’ rights to select the union of their own choosing, to negotiate with that union, and permit the musicians to work under a fair contract that respects industry standards for professional musicians,” AFM international president Ray Hair said via Deadline. “Musicians deserve the same consideration as any other worker in film and TV production, and it is unconscionable that a multibillion dollar corporation would deny musicians wages, benefits, and working conditions that are provided under AFM agreements,” Hair stated via Deadline.
According to Deadline, the musicians, all from New York’s tri-state area, were allegedly hired to “sideline” on the miniseries. Sidelining is a term to describe musicians miming playing instruments on screen. As the production date drew closer, many of the musicians had already received their first paychecks, were fitted for costumes, and even underwent COVID testing. Upon their request to be represented by the AFM, the file claims the group was let go.
“I have been looking forward to this project and even worked up the music on a flute from the late 19th century,” said Norman Thibodeau via Deadline. Thibodeau belongs to the AFM Local 14 in Albany. “I have performed wedding ceremonies that have provided better working conditions than has been the case with HBO. For the company to put such painstaking efforts into making a historically representative performance and then fall down at the finish line over how musicians are treated, and that should pose no significant challenge to a genuinely ethical employer, is mind-boggling,” Thibodeau stated via Deadline.
According to Deadline, union guidelines state that whenever two or more musicians are hired to “sideline,” a minimum rate of $242 must be provided along with a pension and health benefits.
“It is more important now than ever before that workers have the right to come together in solidarity and unionize to protect themselves, their working conditions, their livelihood, and their industry,” JJ Johnson said via Deadline. Johnson plays the violin and is a member of AFM Local 78 in Syracuse. “We are being retaliated against for fighting for our rights as workers and union members. After a year of being locked out of work because of pandemic restrictions, HBO cannot be allowed to bully people into accepting substandard conditions,” Johnson said according to Deadline.
“We are deeply disappointed by HBO’s decision to replace us on a job that, for most of us, is the first orchestral music work that we have received since the pandemic began,” said cellist Theo Zimmerman via Deadline. “It leaves a very bad taste in the mouth to know that if you request the right to be represented by the American Federation of Musicians on a production of this scale that you will be summarily fired,” Zimmerman said via Deadline. Zimmerman is a member of AFM Local 802 in New York City.
According to Deadline, the series was set to begin production as of May 20 near Troy, NY. Set in the 1880s, The Gilded Age explores the beginning of mass wealth in America through the eyes of a young man fixated on infiltrating the upper class.