American Federation of Musicians and HBO Officially Resolve ‘The Gilded Age’ Representation Dispute

American Federation of Musicians Confirms "Painful" Pension Fund Cuts for Existing Members/ SAG-AFTRA
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The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) has officially resolved its pay- and representation-related dispute with HBO.

The AFM – which revealed earlier this month that it and SAG-AFTRA had distributed $70 million to non-featured performers via their Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund – publicly unveiled the disagreement with WarnerMedia’s HBO on Friday.

According to the corresponding release, the 125-year-old union named HBO in an unfair labor practice complaint (filed with the National Labor Relations Board) for allegedly firing certain sidelining musicians “after they asked to be represented by the” AFM.

For reference, the company hired “musicians from across the tri-state area” to work on The Gilded Age, which is currently filming in Troy, New York, and stars Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife lead Carrie Coon.

Higher-ups on the 10-episode miniseries informed multiple musicians of their dismissal – and relayed “that HBO would not be contracting with the AFM” – during a brief meeting on the same morning that the NLRB complaint was filed, per the text.

Addressing the situation via a statement, AFM International president Ray Hair specified in part: “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.”

And yesterday morning, New York Assemblyman John T. McDonald III (108th District) weighed in on the dispute with a different statement yet, which four other Empire State lawmakers co-signed.

“The City of Troy was home to Kate Mullany, a pioneer of the labor movement. It is troubling that there are allegations of musicians being fired from HBO’s production of ‘The Gilded Age’ for exercising their right to organize,” the lawmakers said.

“This production is being filmed in a city with a history of being at the forefront of worker rights. We have tremendous local talent in our region and bringing the production to this area is a wonderful opportunity. With that in mind, we hope this issue can be resolved fairly and expeditiously while protecting the rights of workers,” the message finished.

As initially mentioned, an expeditious resolution did in fact materialize, as the AFM formally announced (on social media and in a Times Union article) that it had reached a tentative agreement with HBO to pay The Gilded Age musicians the union rate.

An Albany-based musician named Sherwood Wise expressed the opinion in the Times Union piece that communication with the show’s team was lacking – as was the pay that they offered. During the previously noted (Zoom) meeting on Friday morning, The Gilded Age producers said that they would increase the compensation rate, but refused to approve an AFM contract, indicating that “‘HBO will not sign off,’” according to Wise.

But any hesitancy that HBO execs may have had in inking a union deal with the musicians on The Gilded Age ultimately disappeared, and network officials commented on the resolution in a statement over the weekend.

“After careful consideration of our valued relationships with our union partners and the community of musicians and performers, we have reached an agreement with the American Federation of Musicians on The Gilded Age production to cover their members on an AFM basis,” the company said.