- What is a Union?
- What is a Non-Union?
- Union Job vs. Non-Union Job.
- Is it Better to be Union or Non-Union?
Employee representation in the entertainment industry comes in two forms: individual or group representation.
Union and non-union organizations offer representation, providing formal and informal interactions between the two sides of the industry. While they both have similarities and differences, they seek to provide employees with a forum to air their concerns, express their ideas, and provide feedback on potential organizational changes that probably affect them.
A union is an association of workers in an industry or organization formed to improve its members' welfare.
Such welfare may include soliciting for increased work pay, health care benefits, and working conditions of its members.
An actor union represents and protects the interests of film, television, commercial, and theater actors. They ensure actors receive just pay, fair treatment, and decent working conditions and protect them against exploitation and mistreatment.
The union negotiates with producers and entertainment company executives in the film, commercial, and television industries. While in the theater, they negotiate with producers, theater owners, and managing directors. Actors' unions negotiate with the people who employ their members so that actors can focus on their creative work.
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As the name implies, this is the opposite of a Union. Actors in this category are not members of the traditional actor's union. Employees in a non-union contract negotiate the terms of their employment through individual contracts, connoting that a non-union workplace recognizes the employees as individuals and not an extension of a group or union.
In a non-union job, the employers hold most of the power, which means that they develop their guidelines and work expectations, including hours, wages, and work schedules.
This is a note, usually on the acting résumé or audition submission, stating whether or not you belong to any acting unions.
Union membership status is allotted to members, and it helps producers know your union status to create accurate budgets for their projects. If their project is non-union, they cannot hire union actors.
Union and non-union jobs provide different amounts and levels of benefits.
Many union members receive benefits, such as health insurance, which also covers unmarried domestic partners, but this is less common in non-union jobs. Members also receive retirement benefits. A union actor is entitled to pension and health payments from the producer/production (roughly an additional 16.5% - 19%)
Unions also negotiate other benefits, such as vacation and sick leave, which often leads to more time off in those areas.
In nonunions, the employer determines the benefits that the employees receive. While most non-union members receive insurance coverage and other benefits, they tend to receive fewer benefits compared to union members. Many non-union employees may still need to receive retirement plans.
A union actor has a very set payment structure with specific rules on how much they are compensated for a single session, overtime, and additional work requests (such as extra voices/characters performed in a session).
Union actors get paid four different fees:
Session fees: these are for each day of work plus any overtime. They also include using your personal wardrobe or props, meal penalties for not breaking on time, recutting footage into additional spots, etc.
Holding fees: these are paid for every 13-week cycle if the production wishes to have exclusive rights to your parity within certain commercial categories. It is also called holding a "conflict," and it protects the client from the actor working for a competitor when he/she has just concluded a campaign for them. However, they have to fairly compensate the actor for continuing to hold conflicts.
Residual fees: these are the payments you get for the reuse of your commercials on various platforms. Depending on the spot and platform, union commercials can generate a lot of residual income, which is crucial income actors and reps count on for stability and sustenance.
Finally, for every dollar the production pays you, they also contribute roughly 18 cents to your union pension and health plan to help provide for your health care and retirement.
Non-union actors are usually offered much lower pay for the session, with no residuals, pensions, or health benefits. Unless offered or negotiated, they have no additional compensation for all the other things, such as using shot footage for one spot the actor did in others, overtime, travel, using your stuff, and so on.
Union actors are not to audition or work for non-union jobs, as the unions aim to create an environment where producers are forced to comply with union standards. If union actors work non-union jobs, they weaken the union's bargaining power. And so they do not have access to all auditions.
However, in union jobs or projects, union members are given access to resources when auditioning for gigs, whether it's preferential treatment or enhanced facilities for taped auditions.
Actors' unions market their members as more qualified, experienced, and professional than non-union talent and, therefore, a better option for film or movie production, reducing the talent pool available to non-union actors.
Also, most union actors become eligible for higher-paying jobs because of the union exposure, accommodations, and resources.
Unions charge a one-time initiation fee, annual dues, and a percentage of yearly earnings.
SAG-AFTRA charges $3,000 for a national initiation fee, and their annual dues are $231.96. For earnings up to $1,000,000, Working dues are calculated at 1.575%.
However, fees may vary depending on the state and sector. For example, broadcasters, as do actors in some small markets like Houston or Philadelphia, have a different dues scale.
For the Actors' Equity Association, Membership votes determine the dues. For now, annual dues are $176, and the equity initiation fee is $1,800. Working dues, which are 2.5% of the gross earnings, are collected from weekly paychecks.
A recent study has shown that workers represented by labor unions earn 10.2% higher wages than their non-union peers, have better benefits, and collectively raise wages industry-wide.
Although union membership may sometimes have setbacks, such as less autonomy, workplace tension, and slower advancement, it is advisable to be in a union rather than a non-union.
However, the final choice rests with the actor. This article serves as a guide to help them make an informed decision.
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