Music

As Musicians Start Talks With Studios, Hollywood Labor Leaders Lend Support In Picket

The leader of the American Federation of Musicians proclaimed that Hollywood labor is “in a new era” as dozens of members of various entertainment unions came to the doorstep of studio labor negotiators in support of the start of his union’s contract negotiations on Monday.

As an early drizzle that morning turned into driving rain, members of the Writers Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and Teamsters Local 399 rallied in front of the Sherman Oaks offices of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers with picket signs, and a few umbrellas, in hand. To AFM‘s chief negotiator and international president Tino Gagliardi, this kind of unity for musicians was unlike anything he’d seen in his time in union leadership. “We’re in a new era, especially in the American labor movement, with regard to everyone coalescing and coming together and collaborating in order to get what we all need in this industry,” Gagliardi told The Hollywood Reporter. “Together we are the product, we are the ones that bring the audiences in, that controls the emotion, if you will.”

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The program — which featured music performed by AFM brass musicians and speeches from labor leaders including Teamsters Local 399 secretary-treasurer Lindsay Dougherty, Writers Guild of America West vice president Michele Mulroney and L.A. County Federation of Labor president Yvonne Wheeler — took place hours before the AFM was scheduled to begin negotiations over new Basic Theatrical Motion Picture and Basic Television Motion Picture contracts with the AMPTP in an office just steps away.

The message that speakers drove home was sticking together in the wake of the actors’ and writers’ strikes that shut down much of entertainment for half a year the previous summer and fall. The 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes saw an unusual amount of teamwork occur between entertainment unions, which the AFM is clearly hoping to repeat in their contract talks. “We learned a hard, long lesson last year that we had to be together since day one. That’s going to be the difference going into this fight for the musicians, is that we’re all together in this industry,” Dougherty said in her speech.

The WGA West’s Mulroney addressed the musicians present, saying that her members “never took your support for granted” during the writers’ work stoppage. She added, “The WGA has your back just as you had our backs this past summer.” Though he wasn’t present at Monday’s event, SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland sent a message, delivered by his chief communications officer, that “the heat of the hot labor summer is as strong as ever.”

The AMPTP said in a statement on Monday that it looks forward to “productive” negotiations with the AFM, “with the goal of concluding an agreement that will ensure an active year ahead for the industry and recognize the value that musicians add to motion pictures and television.” 

Though the AFM contracts under discussions initially expired in Nov. 2023, the writers’ and actors’ strikes that year prompted both sides to extend the pacts by six months. Top priorities for the musicians’ union in this round of talks include instituting AI protections, amplifying wages and greater streaming residuals.

For rank-and-file writers and actors who showed up at Monday’s rally, one recurring theme was repaying the AFM for its support during their work stoppages. SAG-AFTRA member Miki Yamashita (Cobra Kai), who is also a member of the American Guild of Musical Artists, explained that during the actors’ strike she organized an opera singers-themed picket at Paramount, which AFM members asked to take part in. “Because of them, we had orchestra players and a pianist to play for us during our picket, and I’ll never forget how much that meant to me, that show of solidarity,” she said. “I promised myself that if they ever needed my presence of my help, that I would rush to help them.”

Carlos Cisco and Eric Robbins, both writers on Star Trek: Discovery and WGA members, worked as lot coordinators at Disney during the writers’ strike. They recalled AFM members providing a morale boost during the work stoppage by occasionally playing music on the picket lines. “The struggles that labor faces in this [industry] are universal, whether it’s the hours, the residual payments as we’ve moved to streaming or the concern about AI coming into various spaces. We have far more in common than separates us,” said Robbins.

The AFM’s negotiations are set to continue through Jan. 31. Though the AMPTP offices don’t often see labor demonstrations, Gagliardi says that as a former president of New York-based AFM Local 802, he staged rallies in front of employer headquarters with some frequency. “I did this on a regular basis,” he said. “It was about bringing everyone together to fight for a common cause, and that’s what we’re doing today.”

This story was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.

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