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AFM Files ULP Against HBO For Firing Musicians Requesting Union Representation

The American Federation of Musicians today filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge with the National Labor Relations Board against Home Box Office (HBO) for federal labor law violations. In its charge, AFM said that the company fired musicians after they asked to be represented by the American Federation of Musicians.

After a meeting this morning with the producers of the miniseries, “The Gilded Age,” the musicians were told that HBO would not be contracting with the AFM and then were informed were no longer employed for the production.

The orchestra musicians had asked to be accorded the same respect as their colleagues working in other crafts on the set and to be represented by their union.

“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,” states AFM International President Ray Hair. “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.”

“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,” states Theo Zimmerman, cellist and member of AFM Local 802 (New York City). “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.”

Musicians from across the tri-state area were hired to sideline on the HBO period drama, “The Gilded Age,” being filmed in Troy, New York, and featuring Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Carrie Coon, and Denée Benton.

“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,” says JJ Johnson, a violist and member of AFM Local 78 (Syracuse, NY). “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.”

“I have been looking forward to this project and even worked up the music on a flute from the late 19th century,” adds Norman Thibodeau, member of AFM Local 14 (Albany, NY) and AFM Local 85-133 (Schenectady-Amsterdam, NY). “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.”