How does one join an actor’s union? The easy way is to be part of one and you are welcomed into all the others. With an initiation fee and annual dues of course. There are two that were one time three, and or four main Guilds that we shall endeavor to cover here as they pertain mostly to the craft. They are SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actos Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) which pertains primarily with the following categories in Film and TV. Actor’s, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJ’s, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voice over artists and other media professionals. Whew! I ran out of breath on that one. I bet many of you felt it was only about actor’s didn’t ya? The AEA (Actor’s Equity Association) pertains primarily to stage actors, and stage managers. Do not confuse the AEA with Actor’s Equity which can be considered the European equivalent of SAG-AFTRA. We will not be covering that in this column.
Where was I? #smh Oh yes, how to join. Since my humble beginnings and still to this day, the information surrounding this is always so misrepresented. I have seen agents and casting directors advise actors improperly about this on a regular basis. You will always get the real skinny from Danny Boy and I even double checked with the guilds to confirm that there were no changes. To have the chance to join SAG-AFTRA you must have been hired as a Principal Actor on a SAG production. The other way is through three background vouchers. These BG vouchers must be SAG vouchers though. Your regular BG voucher even though it is on a SAG production will not work. Many of the right to work States do not offer Union BG vouchers. Once you have passed one of these stipulations you are free to join at any time. You are now considered SAG eligible. You may also refrain from joining until your third Principal role or your third BG voucher (original 3 BG vouchers to be eligible plus two more). This is when the ‘must join’ kicks in. You will be required at that time to join the Union. For the AEA, one stage audition by a AEA covered stage production will make you eligible. Then you are a must join after the third. Initiation fees to join SAG-AFTRA are a one-time 3,000.00 then your bi-annual union dues are around 111.48. The 3G initiation is for a national membership to work nationally. Some States do offer a State only initiation fee that will allow you to only work in that State. This is a much lower fee. i.e., New Mexico is 900.00. You may check on your States fee with SAG-AFTRA. When you endeavor to work out of your State, you will be required to pay the balance of the National fee. For AEA your one-time initiation fee is about 1,700.00 with bi-annual dues of around 88.00. As stated previously, if you are a member of one of these Unions, that will make you eligible for the other.
Where did these Unions comes from one may ask? I know my curious mind always does, but I am an over-thinker…lol Here is a brief rundown FYI. The AEA was formed around 1913 by stage actors for the obvious reasons that they exist today. Then around 1933 as movies had become more prevalent some of these AEA stage actors began to form the Screen Actors Guild for the same reasons that the AEA was established, but then to cover the collective bargaining of Film contracts. In 1937 the American Federation of Radio Artists (AFRA) was formed to cover the booming radio business and shows involved. In case you may not be aware, radio shows were like TV shows but with no picture. Yes, they actually had regular series with nothing to see but only the imagination of sound and mind. #amazingtimes Hmmm…thoughts of Rod Serling just came to mind! Can you imagine using your imagination? #smilingwidely Thrilling concept! With the advent of Television becoming so common in the 1950’s you also had the Television Authority that merged with the American Federation of Radio Artist which then became what in 1952? Good job, you get the learning Gold star for that answer. You are correct in saying that this collaboration spawned the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). All Guilds were on their happy path until SAG and AFTRA fornicated in 2012 to form SAG-AFTRA.
Are the benefits beneficial or not? Both Unions offer the coverage of collective bargaining agreements as well as nice healthcare and pension plans. From here on in I will concentrate more on the SAG-AFTRA information as I feel this deals largely with my audience. For more information on the AEA, you may contact them directly as they are extremely helpful to answer any questions you may have. With the collective bargaining SAG-AFTRA has pre agreed agreements that everyone has agreed upon of what pay should be at every level for performers. He he, I like agreements and established contracts when followed. Sooo, when a production signs the agreement to make it a SAG production the SAG performers contract is already laid out. There may be some various special sundry requests added by the actor or their Rep. but the base contract has been established already. Yes, it is good compensation at any level. Now, if a production does not abide by the contract then the Guild/Union and their lawyers will pursue. It is up to you to bring it to their attention. The Guild, your Agent and Manager will not be keeping track of any breaches for you. Now keep in mind that this becomes a Legal process and may take forever to a year or more to conclude. The good thing is though that your legal representation is covered by the union. In a Non-Union production you or your representation would need to establish a contract and would also need to hire an attorney if said contract was not followed. That brings us to ‘habeas corpus’ which has nothing to do with this, but I always wanted to say that…lol Anyhow, you get the picture. The Guild also offers a nice medical and pension plan. To qualify for the medical, you must make at minimum about 25,950.00 per year. After that the performer pays about 375.00 every three months with a 500.00-dollar annual deductible. Then the coverage above the 500 becomes a 90/10 split. Quite the good deal right there. To qualify for the pension plan you must earn 20G per year for a consecutive five years or nonconsecutive over ten years. Now you are in and the disbursement varies obviously depending on the income history. You are able to begin drawing at 55 if you so desire with 65 as the common age for full benefits. Not too shabby I would say. Lest we not forget the residual pay that you will continue to receive from the productions you have worked on. All great food for thought and not fodder.
Now we do have the dirty little secret called Fi-Core (financial-core). This is not talked about much and most of the information of it is grey and difficult to come by unless you do something novel like me. I simply called SAG-AFTRA for the 411. Everything is always a phone call away folks so stop asking people simply to get the wrong answers. #smh If you are a SAG-AFTRA member you are obviously held to working only on Union productions, and not NU. Many notable actors and not so notable have opted to go Fi-Core. You essentially become an FPNM of SAG-AFTRA. Ha ha… it does not mean what you were thinking silly. It stands for ‘Fee Paying Non-Member’ of the Union. What this allows you to do is work on NU productions as well as SAG productions with some lessor features. If you are on a SAG production, then your contract is still covered by SAG as well as residuals and all labor negotiated hours and working conditions. If you are working on a NU production, then you are on your own with no residuals and the afore mentioned perks. You lose your membership as you know it. No SAG card, no member number or discounts. No free movies at awards voting time. No say so in voting of any kind. You are however still eligible for the healthcare and pension plans under the same guidelines. You will not be able to promote yourself as a SAG actor. However, if you promote yourself as a Fi-Core actor then the production knows you were a member and are of Guild quality. You will still pay the Union dues but at a lessor amount. Hence the financial core. You are paying the financial core of the dues. If you are SAG or going to be, I would suggest that you consider this heavily and carefully before any move. The Union did mention that if you decide to rejoin to full SAG-AFTRA status, you do have that option. It is not an easy process as you will need to present your case to a review board. They obviously do not want to lose your lovely talented self. There are rumors of SAG-AFTRA productions blacklisting Fi-Core actors, but I find these to be scare tactics and only rumors.
To go Union or not is another question that you must spend much consideration toward. Once you are SAG-AFTRA fully and you can no longer perform NU roles, you are greatly limited. There are much more NU roles out there for beginners to fine tune their craft. In SAG-AFTRA you will have to up your game and be prepared to operate at a much higher level. You will be competing with some seasoned and skilled performers out there. The benefits of the Union are high. You are paid better as well as treated better. It is a comfort knowing that you are legally covered cuz let me tell ya, contracts are only as good as the paper they are written on and there will be a legal need weather you are Union or NU. A big factor to help in your decision is to know where you are going with acting. Is it as a full-time working actor career or as a part time simply wanting to share your talents and skills? This aint no kids game Kiddo!
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