Union Town

Musicians Union Hits All the Right Notes

Hollywood labor solidarity helps American Federation of Musicians gain streaming residuals, protections against AI, and health plan improvements.

Photo by Dexter Kim

When the WGA began its 148-day strike in 2023, unions from across the entertainment industry and beyond joined the picket lines in a show of solidarity the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) could not ignore.

The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) was one of the staunch supporters of the WGA cause in L.A., New York and around the country. Members from AFM Local 47 could be seen—and heard—on the L.A. picket lines wearing their signature turquoise-blue t-shirts. Many carried instruments in tow, ready for impromptu jam sessions that lifted the spirits of picketers and kept the energy flowing despite the sweltering heat.

L-R AFM International Vice President Dave Pomeroy; Teamsters Local 399 Contract Coordinator Jason Ide; Teamsters Local 399 Principal Officer Lindsay Dougherty; AFM International President, Tino Gagliardi; WGAW Executive Director Ellen Stutzman; AFM Local 47 Vice President Marc Sazer; and AFM Secretary-Treasurer Ken Shirk at AMPTP headquarters on January 26.

Those interactions last summer both informed AFM during its recent successful contract negotiations with the AMPTP and helped provide the foundation for an ongoing community of support that is still going strong.

“I just think it's a priority for us to all stand together and empower each other,” said Chris Anderson-Bazzoli, President of the Recording Musicians Association of L.A., a conference within the AFM. “It needs to become a habit. Otherwise, we’re not going to get good contracts. I definitely saw the moment as a major opportunity to build solidarity with the rest of the industry, so I made it a priority to get out there.”

AFM came to a tentative agreement with the AMPTP on a new contract in February. The musicians’ primary issues may sound familiar to members of the WGA. Significant wins for AFM included residuals for their work on streaming platforms; important safeguards against the unfair use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) that could replace the work of live musicians; and substantial improvements to their healthcare plan to provide greater security and affordability for AFM members and their families.

In the fall, AFM will be entering into another round of talks, this time concerning a new contract for live TV with many of the same issues in play: residuals, AI, and health care benefits.

Lara Wickes, an oboe-playing AFM member, sums up how crucial changes to streaming compensation are. Wickes performed on the most recent theatrically-released Star Wars trilogy, and the residuals from those and other films continue to support her and her family. But on the super-popular streaming series The Mandalorian, Wickes only received a small one-time wage.

“They got a hell of a good bargain off us for the last decade,” Wickes said. 

The last time AFM engaged in contract negotiations was in 2019. That pre-pandemic—and pre-WGA strike—effort paled compared to this year’s fight, and Anderson-Bazzoli sees a direct correlation between the 2023 solidarity-infused labor actions and AFM’s recent contract success.

“Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA gave us a masterclass in how to organize your power the year before, and they also made our conversations with our members a lot easier,” Anderson-Bazzoli said.

Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA gave us a masterclass in how to organize your power the year before, and they also made our conversations with our members a lot easier.

- Chris Anderson-Bazzoli

The unity on display last summer among unions, both within and outside the entertainment industry, continued into the winter of 2024. During a January 22 rally in front of the AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks to kick off AFM’s contract talks, members from multiple unions braved a rain storm to show support. In addition to a sizable WGAW presence, members from the Teamsters, IATSE and others were in attendance.

Wickes joked, “I can only imagine what’s going on inside the AMPTP when they’re looking down going, ‘Crap, they brought friends.’”

Speakers at the January rally included AFM International President Tino Gagliardi, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Yvonne Wheeler, Teamsters Local 399 Principal Officer Lindsay Dougherty and WGAW Vice President Michele Mulroney.

AFM Local 47 members on the picket line at Sony Pictures.

“We all know that words and music go together like peanut butter and chocolate,” Mulroney said during her remarks at the rally. “The incredible songs and scores that your members perform elevate and enhance the words and stories our members write for the screen.”

Mulroney added that AFM’s contribution to the film and television industry “must be respected, valued and protected.”

The solidarity among the entertainment unions continued at a rally at Woodley Park on March 3. In advance of contract negotiations between IATSE, the Hollywood Basic Crafts and the AMPTP, more than 1,000 attendees from across the labor movement voiced their support.

AFM Local 47 had a booth at the March 3 event and also provided pre-program live entertainment much like they did on the WGA and SAG-AFTRA picket lines. 

“Our new-found and broad-based willingness to support each other really changed history,” said Local 47 Vice President Marc Sazer of the power that continued solidarity provides.

For WGAW captain Carlos Cisco who attended both the Jan. 22 and March 3 rallies, supporting his musician siblings was about more than just returning the favor.

“I think it’s important for us to show inter-union solidarity at every chance we can. The visibility of events like this can’t be understated,” Cisco said. “Stronger together is a catchy platitude, but it’s also a truism.”

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