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What You Need to Know About Actor Unions

September 24, 2014

SAG-AFTRA: What’s The Gist?

The following is a pretty common scenario which unfolds each year as new young talent and their parents make the decision to embark upon an entertainment career: Through education and discovery, parents and talent learn about the various actors unions and very quickly they come around to asking the popular question, “How do I get my child into the Union?”  While it is very important that parents understand the function and purpose of the various entertainment unions they should also keep in mind that joining one isn’t necessarily something they need to stress about, nor is it, in most cases, something they need to concern themselves with right away.

Why Is it Important to Know About the Unions: 
As a parent of a performer, it is important to have a general understanding of the unions for a few reasons: your overall entertainment education and knowledge and to have an understanding of your child’s rights when it comes to things like education and working conditions on set. What’s less important in the early stages of your career is a premature eagerness to break in to the unions. Simply put, those who are in a union may not work non-union jobs. However, non union jobs are generally easier to get. Therefore, you do not want to enter a union before your child’s resume supports union work. If you are at the point in your career where you believe it is time to join, you must first become ‘eligible’.  There are a few different ways to become union eligible.

SAG-AFTRA, A Quick Background:

As of March 30th, 2012 SAG-AFTRA - that is the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, otherwise known as SAG and AFTRA, merged creating the nation’s largest labor union representing working actors with nearly 160,000 members, thousands of whom are children. Together SAG-AFTRA now has exclusive jurisdiction over principal and extras performers (actors), singers, dancers, DJ's, news announcers, voice over artists, stunt performers and more appearing in feature films, television broadcasts, commercials, radio and other types of productions such as industrial/education videos, interactive video and new media.

SAG-AFTRA has three basic master agreements which spell out the responsibilities of producers hiring minors depending on project type (feature film, television or commercial) and union signatory. Although the unions have merged, the contracts have not yet been modified and are due for renegotiation this year. The rules vary slightly and you are encouraged to call the Union if you are unsure which contract your production is working under.

Dues & Initiation Fees:
Parents are often interested in learning more about union eligibility, initiation fees and ongoing member dues.  The price of being in a union is indeed something you should be prepared for. Dues and fees are based on a sliding scale with the amount due determined by earnings. Each member pays an annual base of $198.00, plus 1.575% of all earnings between $1.00 and $500,000. Dues are calculated annually and paid in two installments, due May 1st and November 1st.

New member initiation fees vary from state to state, and can be costly, so you might want to have the money put aside, just in case. If you are a resident of Los Angeles, be prepared to pay $3,000 in initiation fees, plus $99 for the first semi-annual basic dues ($3,099.00 total).  

Once you become eligible for SAG AFTRA membership you are considered a “must join”, meaning you must pay those dues before you will be allowed to work on a future SAG project.   So how do you become SAG-AFTRA ‘eligible’?
  • Book 1 principal (speaking) role in a SAG-AFTRA production
  • OR Book 3 background (extra) roles in a SAG-AFTRA production
  • OR Hold 1 year membership in an affiliated performer Union.
To learn more about Actor Unions, or to find Union Rules for child performers, simply click on the “Rules and Laws” tab above and select 'Union Rules’ from the drop down list.