Actor's Unions-- To Join or Not to Join

If you’re new to acting and you’ve just begun working in the industry as an actress or actor, you have a few things to learn. You’ve probably heard people discussing the “union,” but may not have been entirely certain what they meant by that. In most cases “the” union that is being discussed is SAG AFTRA. SAG AFTRA—also commonly referred to as the Screen Actors Guild, is a union that represents actors, radio and television artists of every type.

According to the SAGAFTRA website “SAG-AFTRA represents approximately 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals. SAG-AFTRA members are the faces and voices that entertain and inform America and the world. With national offices in Los Angeles and New York, and local offices nationwide, SAG-AFTRA members work together to secure the strongest protections for media artists into the 21st century and beyond. Visit SAG-AFTRA online at SAGAFTRA.org”.

What’s in it for Me?

Joining the union helps to guarantee that you’re going to be given a specific pay for a given type of work. There are some ups and downs to the union membership, with one of the downs being that if you’re part of the union you cannot work on a non union production.

What’s the Down Side?

As part of the union you’re competing against actors and actresses with a lot more skill and experience. If you join you can’t work on non union items and it may be that if you’re not yet able to compete against the bigger talent, you’ll be very limited as to roles that you play.

But Don’t I Have to Join to Work?

Absolutely not. There are tons of different kinds of work that may come your way that is not union work. When you’re getting started that may be the best way to go. Playing it by ear is in your best interests.

If you are not part of the union, you may still audition for union roles by getting a bit of paperwork that is known as the Taft Hartley. The Taft Hartley will allow you to work on the project but not have to join the union. A Taft Hartley will give you sixty days to work on a project that is union without paying dues. Once that expires you will have to pay union dues.

You should be the one to decide when you’re ready to join SAG AFTRA and are able to compete on a level playing field with the actors who are part of that union.

Bear in mind, that you don't have the option to even join SAG AFRTA until you are eligible. There are specific requirements for you to be able to join the union. Finding out how you can become eligible to join will be the first step and only then can you determine if it is in your best interests to do so.