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Actor Unions

October 21, 2015

"What Are They and When Should You Join?"

The subject of actor unions is often an unfamiliar and perhaps intimidating one especially if you're new to the industry. However, there's no need to overwhelm yourself with a union rule book the size of the Yellow Pages.  By simply familiarizing yourself with the basic unions and their rules for child actors, you'll be one step ahead of the game.

What is an actor union? - Like all unions, actor unions are organizations of employees (actors) formed to negotiate wages and working conditions with their employers (producers).  Production companies that are bound by union agreement (a.k.a signatory) are required to hire only union actors on their projects.  There are very few exceptions to this rule (Taft Hartley is an exception).

Why do actors join unions? - Traditionally most all of the major motion picture studios are union signatory, so many actors believe they will get better quality work and higher paying jobs as union members.  While union jobs do tend to pay a higher rate, there is no guarantee that membership in a union will get you work.  Union actors also enjoy benefits like health and pension plans, employee programs and residuals.

Does my child need to join a union? - Not necessarily.  When working on union projects, there is something called a Taft Hartley - an act passed in 1953 which allows for non-union actors to work a limited amount of days on a union project prior to being required to join ("must join") the union.  Also, occasionally a non-union extra is offered a minor speaking role to fill in for an absent actor or to add to a scene.  In this case an upgrade takes place and the actor becomes automatically eligible to join the union.

And if your child has been working for a while, you're probably facing the quandary that many actors, young and old, go through: How do I get into a union?

Carl Sprayberry, Child Actor Parent, suggests that before you even ask how, first consider this: "Are you really ready to join?"

Your initial answer may be, "Of course!" but remember that obtaining union membership for your child does not guarantee you will get more work and there are substantial initiation fees when joining.

Click here to check out the Actor Unions and Eligibility Requirements and read more about unions here.