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Should I Join the Unions?

Air Date: 8/17/2021

Should I join

the union(s)?

I get this question all the time. It is especially prevalent with actors’ equity association (AEA) as well as SAG-AFTRA, The performers union for film, television, and recorded media. There are many variables for an actor to consider when joining the union. Not only about it being a good decision for your career, but is it the right time for you to join? To be sure, it is an investment. It is a financial burden but that preclude her from finding non-union meaningful full employment. Let's take a look at the pros and cons that you need to consider when pursuing your dreams as an actor or actress. First, we will look at all the positive reasons for you to consider membership followed by a rational you may want to consider before making a decision to join.

Reason why joining the performers union makes sense

A few weeks ago, actors’ equity association eliminated its point structure for union membership. The equity candidate program was eliminated in favor of an accelerated membership drive


. This means that many actors who were waiting to accumulate the points needed to join could now simply pay their membership and be an automatic equity member. For the union this makes a lot of sense, having struggled the past 18 months with COVID lock down and production stoppage. Simply put, there is a need to increase its coffers. If you find yourself in this situation, there are important considerations to be made. First, joining the union offers its members several levels of protection. Structured salary payments, safety restrictions, job protections and (if there are enough accumulation employment weeks), health benefits. It is also considered the next step to being a professional (although that is not always the case). This is also true for SAG-AFTRA members. Additionally, film and television actors receive residual payments and similar safety and job protection rights. For many, being a union member is a rite of passage into professionalism. The good news is that when y


ou join, you have allowed yourself to be part of a proud tradition of performers and artists. Things like workplace safety and salary framework are not to be taken lightly. Depending on how you think of unions in general, there is no doubt that performers have found great benefits with these organizations. For example, there are support measures in place should there be a dispute and even free workshops that can help actors fine tune their craft. If you are intent on growing and developing an acting career, union is inevitable. Know that you can withdraw your membership should the need arise, but past dues are something that should be considered if you discontinue and not pay. The union does not look very kindly on members that withdraw to work in a non-union production and then rejoin. Supporting your fellow professional actors in the union is an important part to the success of negotiation with producers for benefits and compensation. Finally, agents and mana


gers who are franchised by the unions follow strict rules for contracts, commissions and timely salary payments. This is a good thing if you are seeking representation. Some agents only work with union talent. So, it is worth taking note if you are looking for professional representation. Now let’s consider the reasons not to join any of the performer’s unions.

Reasons NOT to join the performers union(s)

It’s expensive. Joining Actors Equity Association


s’ initiation fee is $1700. Additionally, Dues are based on your employment history for the previous year. SAG/AFTRA initiation fees are $3000 with annual base dues of $222.96 or a percentage of wages earned over a year. It is not unusual for an actor to take a job, then must join the union and make less than that in salary for the job. The next reason to consider not joining the union are the opportunities that are available. I have never seen an actor join the union and get more work. Especially now, there are many non-union performing opportunities that can be rather rewarding. For example, if you are a musical theatre performer, Cruise ships, theme parks and national tours are an excellent source of income and experience. Joining the union virtually eliminates these jobs from your consideration. For many television productions, student films and commercials producers are emplo


ying non-union talent for their various projects. It is costly for many producers to go the route of union talent hiring. Keeping costs down may benefit actors who are not members of a union. Finally, it may be a matter of personal choice. If you are continually employed by a theatre company or producer to the point that it makes no sense to join a union, then why would you want to? This is a personal decision to be sure. Looking at the options carefully are very important to the decision you make.

What is the answer?

As I alluded to earlier, if you are looking to make a go of a professional acting/ performing career, then it would make sense for you to join. The time must be right, however. My suggestion is to weigh the opportunities if front of you. I always tell young actors and students to not think that joining a performing arts union is a key to success. It is not. It is a logical next step for your journey at the right time. Thinking that a union will put you in the “big leagues” might feel good but know that you will be joining thousands that ha


ve had professional experience and successful careers before you arrived. Although I am not a fan of dwelling on competition (after all, it is your uniqueness that makes you special) it must be a business decision and not an emotional one. I think that the old adage of, “wait and see” still makes sense. Why not hold off joining until the right opportunity/job reveal itself to you. Believe me, you will know when it makes sense for you. Keep the question in your business plan and you will be shown the right next step for you. If you are already a member of the union, congratulations. Your commitment and determination are excellent tools to grow your career.

Jeffrey Dreisbach


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