ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Local musicians hired to appear in HBO’s new series “The Gilded Age” banded together to unionize after the production’s working conditions and wages weren’t up to union standards. HBO pushed back and told the musicians they would be recast. However, after the American Federation of Musicians filed an unfair labor practices charge on their behalf, HBO reconsidered.
From utilizing the Victorian-era buildings in Monument Square to transforming the signage on storefronts to the 1800s, everything about this new HBO series is authentic. That’s why hiring professional musicians to mime playing period music in a vital scene was no surprise for this production.
“There’s something about the detail of handling a musical instrument, reacting to the sound and everything like that; you just can’t quite duplicate those reflexes for the actor,” Norman Thibodeau, flutist and composer, said.
When HBO hired Thibodeau, he was not only asked to grow a beard but also to study a 19th-century instrument. Thibodeau was thrilled to have the work and take on new sheet music after fourteen months of canceled performances.
However, as the production’s scheduling and requirements became clearer to Thibodeau and the other musicians in the scene, they began to question the fairness of the labor practices.
“The main concerns that really got us working together were working conditions, Thibodeau said.
Because of the pandemic, covid testing was required but the musicians said that they weren’t compensated fully for their efforts. They also claim they were being paid below union standards for their upcoming 12 to 14 hour filming day.
“Musicians contacted me. They wanted to take the work because they needed any money they could get their hands on,” John Van Voris, President of the Albany Musicans’ Association—local 14 of the American Federation of Musicians, said.
Van Voris said all the musicians hired for the day of filming a symphony scene banded together to fight union representation and standards for the project.
“Safety for their instruments, pension, residuals, health, and welfare: That’s normal for these types of events,” Van Voris said.
But when HBO heard their request for representation, Thibodeau and the other musicians were told they’d be recast.
The American Federation of Musicians fired back and filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge with the National Labor Relations Board against HBO for federal labor law violations.
“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,” Ray Hair, AFM International President, said in a statement on their website. “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.”
NEWS10’s Stephanie Rivas spoke with the American Federation of Musicians, and their communications representative said they have reached a “tentative agreement” with HBO to hire the musicians back under union status. However, pen has not been put to paper quite yet.