Acting GuideUnions

Acting Unions in the USA

By Dollface on 20th, March 2010 with no Comments in Acting Guide ,Unions

Finally your acting career is starting to take off. Over the last couple of weeks you’ve booked some TV background work and a few days ago you’ve booked your first National TV Commercial! You’re super excited cause not only people will see your face all over TV but now you could perhaps join an union. The only thing is, you’re not sure what it means to be a member of an union, how an union can help your career and if you even eligible to join. You recognize this?
Well on this page you’ll find a short overview of The Acting Unions in the USA. Here you’ll find the most necessary information in a clear and lucid way. And of course for more detailed information please visit the websites of the unions which you’ll find in this article hereunder.

UNION:         Screen Actors Guild
ADDRESS:   National Headquarters, 5757 Wilshire Blvd, 7th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90036-3600
ADDRESS:   New York, 360 Madison Avenue, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10017
PHONE:        323-954-1600/ 212-944-1030
EMAIL:         saginfo(at)

Their Legacy

Imagine working on a film with unrestricted hours, no enforced turnaround and no required meal breaks.
Imagine working under a seven-year contract that you can not break and more likely will be forced to renew, for a producer who can tell you who you can marry, what your morals must be, even what political opinions to hold.
This was Hollywood for actors in 1933 under the studio system. Rebel against the studio and you were in for a hard time, better to quit while you’re ahead.
Fortunately, a group of actors risked their careers to start Screen Actors Guild. In 1937, the studio signed a contract with the Guild that, for the first time in Hollywood, gave actors a sense of empowerment.

Their Mission

Screen Actors Guild is the nation’s largest labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists’ rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents over 120,000 actors who work in film and digital motion pictures and television programs, commercials, video games, industrials, Internet and all new media formats. The Guild exists to enhance actors’ working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists’ rights. SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Screen Actors Guild represents its members through:

  • Negotiation and enforcement of collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits, and working conditions for performers.
  • The collection of compensation for exploitation of their recorded performances and protection against unauthorized use.
  • The preservation and expansion of work opportunities.

Why should I join SAG?

The Most Distinguished Performer’s Union in the World
Screen Actors Guild is the most distinguished performer’s union in the world. Our members are experienced professionals who require certain standards of working conditions, compensation and benefits. Membership is often a major milestone in an actor’s career; every SAG card issued symbolizes success and solidarity with a community of 120,000 talented and accomplished artists worldwide.

What Membership Means
Printed on the back of every SAG card is the Rule One of SAG membership:
“No Member shall work as a performer or make an agreement to work as a performer for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the Guild which is in full force and effect. This Provision applies worldwide”

Membership in the Guild says that you are an experienced professional who requires certain minimum standards for wages and working conditions (work hours, turnaround, safety, etc.). Guild members agree to work only for producers who have signed a SAG contract. While actors can, of course, negotiate terms above the minimum, by requiring SAG contracts for every SAG member on every job, we can ensure that all actors are fairly compensated for their work. Without Rule One, many actors would be subject to exploitation.

On May 1, 2002 Screen Actors Guild began globally enforcing Rule One (GR1), ensuring SAG members now benefit from the protections of SAG collective bargaining agreements anywhere they work in the world.Because SAG members have abided by the rule, millions of dollars in contributions have been made into the pension and health funds that would have otherwise been lost. Working without a SAG contract harms your earning power and erodes
the hard-won gains of our union, which hurts all actors. As a result, SAG takes Rule One very seriously: Violating
it can result in disciplinary actions ranging from fines to expulsion.

Giving You The Tools
In addition to negotiating and enforcing contracts for professional performers, Screen Actors Guild also offers members the tools to navigate the industry and expand their craft along the way. From the workshops of the SAG conservatory to resources for young actors, the Guild protects and enhances members’ quality of life on and off set.

SAG’s interactive Web site ( was created to meet the growing
demands of membership worldwide, day or night. SAG 24/7 gives members the
freedom to access the information they need when they need it. It is an important
tool for working actors and the industry professionals who hire them. Members
must be registered with the the Guild’s Web site to take full advantage of its many
features and online services, including:

* Residual Tracker allows members to follow their TV and theatrical residuals through the received payment and
mail process.

*Production Lists advise members of castings opportunities in their region for both principal and background

*Profile Feature allows members to add or update their personal contact information online.

*Contract Information helps answer basic member questions on the job. Need to know if you are entitled to overtime or meal penalties? These answers and the contract summaries can be found online.

*Signatory allows members to check the signatory status of any project at any time. This makes it easier for members to comply with the Rule One, which requires they confirm a project is under contact with SAG before accepting employment.

*Dues Online allows members the option to pay their dues online using their Visa or Mastercard.

*Member Benefits offers a comprehensive clearing house- ranging from publications to legal advice to auto discounts- of special offers for SAG members. Visit

Benefits of Sag Membership

  • Contracts/collective bargaining. SAG negotiates wages and working conditions in order to maintain minimum standards for its members.
  • Pension & Health. SAG members earn credits toward retirement and health care each time they work.
  • The SAG Conservatory offers a variety of workshops taught by industry pros who will assess and enhance your skills as an actor.
  • Casting workshops. Cold reading and scene showcases with working casting directors.
  • The SAG Foundation is an educational, humanitarian and philanthropic 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which serves members of Screen Actors Guild, their families and the greater community. Visit the Foundation Web site at.
  • iActor. SAG’s free, members-only online casting directory.
  • Deals & Discounts. SAG members are eligible for outstanding deals on entertainment, car rentals, insurance, medical visits, prescriptions, real estate, legal services and more. Just log in as a member and click on “Member Perks.” under Branches
  • Resources to Organize Non-Union Work. SAG members and staff can organize non-union productions and sign them to SAG contracts.
  • Contracts to Cover You When Working in a Low Budget/Student Film. If you are approached about appearing in a non-union student film, low-budget, ultra low-budget, or short film there is a SAG contract to cover it.
  • Discount Films. The SAG Film Society offers members and a guest opportunities to view the latest releases at a great discount off theatre prices (program available in certain areas.) Also, members can purchase discounted movie tickets to various public theatres.
  • Tools for Young Performers. SAG offers Young Performers orientation meetings, a handbook containing detailed information to help young performers, an online database consisting of laws pertaining to young performers across the country, and many more.
  • Publications for Guild Members. Read Screen Actor Magazine, SAG’s quarterly members-only publication filled with useful information for members. Also, make sure SAG has your email address, and look out for regular branch newsletters and eblasts. We want to help you stay informed about your union and industry.
  • Involvement in the decision-making process at SAG. SAG is a representative democracy run by members for the benefit of members.
  • SAG Awards Voting Privileges. Only active, paid-up Guild members are given the opportunity to vote for the recipients of the Screen Actors Guild Awards coveted bronze Actor statuette. Also, “For Your Consideration” and nomination screenings are only available to active, paid-up Screen Actors Guild members.
  • Check if you are signing a SAG contract online. Use SAG’s convenient online signatory database to check the signatory status of any project at any time. Verify this information with a call to our TV/Theatrical Contracts department at (323)549-6828. Verifying this information makes it easier for members to comply with Global Rule One.
  • Want to find out even more about the benefits of being a SAG member?
    New Member Orientations are held regularly at SAG. Hear from working SAG members and SAG staff about how to get the most from your new Guild membership. Get your questions answered too!
  • Access to Casting Directors
    The SAG Foundation’s Casting Access Project offers Guild members in Los Angeles, New York and Florida opportunities to meet casting directors through educational panels and seminars and cold reading workshops with top casting directors, and it’s free.
    SAG also sends out invitations to cold readings and scene showcases with working casting directors.
  • Supplemental Work Opportunities
    The following programs are available to SAG members and their families who want to explore new or industry related career paths: Career Transition for Dancers, The Actors Fund–Actors Work Program, The Motion Picture Player Welfare Fund. All of these are non-profit organizations that offer free services to SAG members.
  • Seminars to Help Actors Navigate the Business
    The SAG Foundation’s Life Raft program offers seminars to educate actors, including Commercials 101, agent panels, how to prepare an actor’s taxes, developing your own project, parenting young performers, set etiquette and many others.
  • Access to Health and Human Services
    Screen Actors Guild members are automatically eligible for services offered by the Actors Fund, a national nonprofit human service organization. The Actors fund provides services to all entertainment professionals in four areas: affordable housing, sideline work, health insurance information, and social services and emergency grants.

How to Join SAG?

Are you ready to compete as a professional?
Screen Actors Guild membership is a significant rite of passage for every working actor. However, don’t be in a hurry to join unless you are sure that you’re ready to compete as a professional. Prepare yourself by studying, performing in plays and non-union on-camera projects in order to build your resume and gain valuable experience.

When you are offered your first principal union job, we urge you to consider joining Screen Actors Guild, but understand it is a commitment. Once you are a member, you must abide by the rules of membership, starting with Global Rule One. And, whether you are a SAG member or not–never accept work during a Guild strike!

Check Your Eligibility
Performers are eligible to join Screen Actors Guild after working on a SAG film in a principal role, gaining “Taft Hartley” status 15 days after the first day of work – or meeting background entry requirements.
To check your eligibility visit:

NOTE: Performers who are not U.S. citizens, performers who do not have social security numbers, and performers seeking eligibility through membership in an affiliated union must call the Guild to check eligibility at 323-549-6769.

What are the Fees and Dues?

  • Dues are based on a sliding scale, with the amount determined by how much you earn under SAG contracts.
  • Each SAG member pays annual base dues of $116.00. In addition members pay 1.85% of all individual earnings under SAG contracts between $1 and $200,000; and 0.5% of earnings from $200,001 through $500,000; plus 0.25% of earnings from $500,001 to a maximum of $1,000,000.
  • Dues are calculated on an annual basis, and paid in two installments — the first on May 1, and the second on November 1. Dues are not prorated. Bills are mailed to the address on record before each due date. Members who do not receive bills are responsible for requesting duplicates.
  • Dues payments may be made by cash, check, money order, Visa or Mastercard, in person or by mail.


UNION:          American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
ADDRESS:   New York, 260 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016-2401
ADDRESS:   Los Angeles, 5757 Wilshire Blvd, 9th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90036-0800
PHONE:        212-532-0800/ 323-634-8100
EMAIL:         Go to the ‘ask AFTRA’ or the ‘join online’ button on the home page of the website

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) is a national labor union representing over 70,000 performers, journalists and other artists working in the entertainment and news media. AFTRA is a affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

AFTRA’s scope of representation covers broadcast, public and cable television (news, sports and weather; drama and comedy, soaps, talk and variety shows, documentaries, children’s programming, reality and game shows); radio (news, commercials, hosted programs); sound recordings (CDs, singles, Broadway cast albums, audio books); “non-broadcast” and industrial material as well as Internet and digital programming.

AFTRA’s membership includes an array of talent – sound recording membership includes artists who bring pop, rock, country, classical, folk, jazz, comedy, Latin, hip hop, rap and R&B to the world. AFTRA members perform in television and radio advertising, non-broadcast video, audio books and messaging, and provide their skills for developing technologies such as interactive games and Internet material.

Why should I join AFTRA?

Contract Negotiation and Enforcement
The union negotiates and enforces over 300 collective bargaining agreements that guarantee minimum (but never maximum) salaries, safe working conditions and health and retirement benefits. When the union is unable to resolve disputes with employers, AFTRA contracts include procedures for binding arbitration. The cost of these proceedings is paid by the union.

AFTRA advocates on legislative and public policy issues that directly affect members’ wages and working conditions. This includes lobbying and support for such issues as ownership consolidation in the broadcast industry, Equal Employment Opportunity laws and regulations, copyright and performance rights issues, “non-compete” restrictions, OSHA and local safety regulations, and more.  AFTRA also represents artists and journalists in judicial proceedings, often as amicus, and before the U.S. Copyright Office.

Member Benefits
AFTRA supports the welfare of its members through benefits and programs sponsored or supported by the union. AFTRA was the first industry union to establish employer-paid health and retirement plans for members and their dependents that qualify. The Health Fund provides comprehensive medical and hospital benefits, a dental plan, prescription drug program, and mental health and substance abuse programs. The Retirement Fund is portable, so that wherever members work under an AFTRA contract — whether on a television or radio program, a sound recording, commercial or industrial show — employer contributions are made on their behalf. For more detailed information about the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds, visit

AFTRA membership also provides access to a series of supplemental benefits, discounts and other programs through groups such as Group Benefits Associates, TEIGIT, UnionPlus/Union Privilege and MusicPro.

The AFTRA Foundation, a separate tax-exempt organization funded entirely by voluntary contributions, works in even broader ways to benefit performers and broadcasters and supports the educational and charitable objectives of AFTRA.

Scholarships are available to AFTRA members and dependents through the AFTRA Heller Memorial Foundation. AFTRA members are also eligible for assistance through organizations such as Theatre Authority and the Actors’ Fund. In addition, several AFTRA Locals sponsor scholarship programs and various charitable foundations for the benefit of AFTRA members and/or their dependents.

For the entire Member Benefits Overview visit:

Governance and Administration
AFTRA was founded and governed by members. Each of the Locals around the country elects its own Board of Directors, in addition to electing representatives to the National Board of Directors. Those Local and National Boards set the direction of the organization and establish its policies on the local and national levels respectively. AFTRA also holds a National Convention every two years, and delegates are directly elected on a proportional basis from each Local to represent the membership at the Convention. All Board members and Officers — both Local and National — serve without pay. Policies and programs developed by the elected members are implemented and administered by salaried staff at the national and local level.

AFTRA’s National President is New York actress Roberta Reardon. Its senior administrator and labor relations professional is National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth.

Other Initiatives
AFTRA actively supports equal employment opportunities for minorities and women in the broadcast and entertainment industries, and its contracts call for diversity and fairness in hiring practices. AFTRA also protects its members by franchising talent agents who represent performers in its jurisdictions.

AFTRA Local offices offer a wide variety of special programs tailored to the needs of members who live and work in their area. These programs range from publication of talent guides distributed to local producers, agents and casting directors; scheduling of conservatories or seminars which help members improve skills, write resumes and develop audition techniques; opportunities for members to meet casting directors, agents and others who hire talent; and local showcases to highlight new talent to the industry.


  • Department for Professional Employees of the AFL-CIO (DPE)
  • Associated Actors and Artistes of America (4-A’s)
  • International Federation of Actors (FIA)
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

How to Join AFTRA?
Go to the home page of the AFTRA website and click on the button ‘join online’ and fill out the form.

What are the Fees and Dues?

The current Initiation fee is $1600. Dues are calculated and billed twice per year, on May 1st and November 1st.
Base dues are $63,90 per six-month dues period ($127.80 annually). In addition to base dues, members who earn $2000 or more in AFRA Covered earnings are billed work dues in the following amounts:

· for earnings from $0.01 to $100,000: 0.743% (1.486% annually); and,

· for earnings from $100,000.01 to $250,000:   an additional 0.137% (.274% annually). Maximum dues per six-month dues period are $1,012.40 ($2,024.80 annually).   New members pay the initiation fee and base dues on joining.   Dues and initiation fees may only be increased by membership referendum or convention vote.

For more information, please call the Local membership department at (212) 532-0800 or the National membership department at (866) 855-5191.

UNION: Actors’ Equity Association
ADDRESS:   National Headquarters, 165 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036
ADDRESS:   Western Region, 6755 Hollywood Blvd, 5th Floor, Hollywood, CA 90028
PHONE:        212-869-8530/ 323-978-8080
EMAIL:         fill out the contact form on the website

Actors’ Equity Association
(“AEA” or “Equity“) was founded in 1913 and is the labor union that represents more than 48,000 Actors and Stage Managers in the Unites States. Equity seeks to advance, promote and foster the art of live theatre as an essential component of our society. Equity negotiates wages and working conditions and provides a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans, for its members. Actors’ Equity is a member of the AFL-CIO, and is affiliated with FIA, an international organization of performing arts unions.

Why should I join Actors’ Equity?

Membership in Equity makes you a part of the most distinguished body of professional Actors and Stage Managers in America. Members working under Equity contracts are entitled to a wide range of contract benefits, including minimum salaries, guaranteed safe and sanitary working conditions and other benefits. You also have access to affiliated organizations that provide services such as free tax assistance and a credit union.
Equity members can attend special Equity-only auditions. Members can vote for Councillors, participate in their contract negotiations and have a voice in their Union.
If you aspire to a career in the theatre – aspire to get your Equity card. The support system and network that Equity provides allows theatre artists the opportunity to enjoy a successful and self-sustaining career.

Benefits Overview

Equity provides a wide range of benefits that enhance both the professional and personal lives of our members. There are two categories of benefits: Contract Benefits – core benefits that are part of collective bargaining agreements, and Membership Benefits, that you are entitled to by virtue of membership.

Contract benefits include: minimum salaries (negotiated rates, overtime, extra pay for additional duties, free housing or per diem on tour); work rules (length of day, breaks, days off, safe and sanitary conditions); health, pension and 401(k) benefits; dispute resolution (including recourse to impartial and binding arbitration); just cause (penalties for improper dismissal); bonding (guaranteeing payments to the Actors if the producer becomes insolvent or defaults); and Supplemental Workers’ Comp insurance, which provides additional compensation over-and-above Workers’ Comp if you’re injured on the job.

Membership benefits include:
Equity-only auditions via casting call and Equity hotlines; agency regulations; member discounts, the Equity News and website; seminars and special events; professional name protection; tax assistance through VITA; and voting privileges, among many others.

Union membership also includes access to service organizations like The Actors’ Fund, Career Transition for Dancers, the Actors’ Federal Credit Union and the AFL-CIO. These organizations offer a host of additional resources such as emergency assistance, seminars, career counseling, low cost financial services, loans and discounts.

One of the most important benefits of Equity membership that is often overlooked is the experience and knowledge of the Equity staff. Equity’s Business Representatives enforce each member’s individual contract provisions and riders. They monitor safety conditions, administer Equity’s agreement with franchised agents and assist members with work-related issues like unemployment and Workers’ Compensation claims.

Equity’s staff is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the Principal, Chorus and Stage Managers’ contract. Members should call the nearest Equity office and speak to a staff person when questions arise.

How to Join AEA:

Eligibility to join. You may apply for Membership by any one of the following methods:

*Equity Contract: You may join the Association by virtue of employment under an Equity contract. Applications for joining Equity are only valid during the term of the contract. Certain contract types also have a length-of-employment requirement before a membership application becomes valid; the Membership Department will advise you at the time of joining.

*The Four A’s: Associated Actors and Artistes of America Affiliation
Membership is also available by virtue of prior membership in a performing arts sister union (see Four A’s list herunder)

AEA: Actors Equity Association
AFTRA: American Federation of Television and Radio Artist
AGMA: American Guild of Musical Artists
AGVA: American Guild of Variety Artists

•    Applicants must be members of a sister union for at least one year
•    Must currently be members in good standing of their parent union
•    Must have worked as a performer under the union’s jurisdiction on a principal or “under-five” contract or at least three days of extra (“background”) work

With your application, you must include a written statement from your parent union stating that you meet the requirements above along with a least $400 towards your Initiation Fee.

Please note: this sister-union policy is not applicable to non-resident aliens.

*Equity Membership Candidate Program (EMC)
This program permits actors and stage managers-in-training to credit theatrical work in an Equity theatre towards eventual membership in Equity. After securing a position at a participating theatre, you may register as a candidate. The $100 registration fee will be credited against any future Initiation Fee when you become eligible for membership. Eligibility under this program requires a total of 50 weeks of EMC work at participating theatres.
If you are joining Equity through the EMC Program, at least a $400 initial payment is due with your application.

*Aliens/Foreign Actor Rules
There are certain eligibility restrictions that are applicable to Non-Resident Aliens. You will need to submit proof of US citizenship or Resident Alien status with your application for membership if you were born outside of the US.

What are the Fees and Dues?

Equity is a self-supporting labor association, funded by members’ dues and initiation fees that underwrite the administrative costs of running the Union. A one-time Initiation Fee is charged when you join Equity (or rejoin, if your membership has lapsed).
All membership privileges, including the right to vote, attend meetings and Equity-only auditions, commence upon the initial payment of $400 towards the fee (currently $1100) within six months of the filing of your application.
Dues: Equity dues have two components: Basic Dues, payable semi-annually in November and May; and Working Dues, which are deducted from your weekly gross earnings.


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