Home Adulting What You Should Know About The Downfall Of The Actors Union

What You Should Know About The Downfall Of The Actors Union

The Screen Actors Guild is cracking, and soon it will start crumbling. There is one major reason: Commercials are going non-union. And, like dominoes, more and more other projects are also starting to go non-union.

Actors are finding it difficult to make a living doing union work. Commercials have been the average actor’s bread and butter for years. I hear stories from veteran actors about how they used to be able to make $100,000 or more just from doing one commercial — and that was twenty years ago. Imagine how much you could make from one commercial if the amount had risen with inflation. Although it’s impossible to predict how much you can make from one commercial, the amounts have drastically decreased to, on average, $10K to $20K. There is one reason for this: corporate greed.

Combine this with the fact that about 80% of commercials have gone non-union, and many actors feel forced to go Financial Core, or Fi-Core. According to the Screen Actors Guild’s (SAG) website, Fi-Core means that you are a fees-paying non-member, or FPNM. Let me clarify, in case that was not clear enough: You are still required to pay the SAG base dues of $201.96 a year, but you are not a member. You are not allowed to put SAG on your resume, you are not protected under SAG’s rules, you cannot take part in SAG perks, you cannot vote in elections or for the SAG awards, you are not allowed screeners, and you are considered a “scab” by members of SAG, entertainment professionals, and other entertainment unions.

In my research, I’ve found that actors are going Fi-Core in huge numbers in order to attempt to earn their livings while making non-union commercials. With a non-union commercial, you are agreeing to, on average, a $500-$1,000 buyout for newer actors and $5K-$10K for veteran actors. This means no residuals. The companies get to run it in perpetuity, and you don’t see a single dime from it ever again. Many Fi-Core actors quickly realize that the money they make doing non-union jobs does not add up to what they would make through SAG, even with the decrease in pay because SAG still pays residuals; now, these Fi-Core actors are trying to turn around and get their SAG cards back, but SAG does not want them back. And, why should SAG let them back in? In essence, Fi-Core actors betrayed the union in order to get some fast cash.

If you’re like me, you worked really f***ing hard to get that SAG card! Why would you choose to devalue yourself?

SAG was created in 1937 in order to protect actors. Back then, actors were signed by studios, who would completely own and control their actors. The studios decided which movies the actors did, their life paths, and even their relationships. Ever wonder why icons like Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe had such tragic ends? The studios ordered prescriptions for drugs, such as amphetamines and barbiturates, in order to overwork them, sometimes even for 72 hours straight, and to control their weights. They made their stars’ lives absolutely miserable. SAG was created to put an end to this mistreatment. When you are in SAG, you get protection, like protected pay and the knowledge that you will be in a safe work environment. You also get other perks, like the potential for healthcare and retirement plans.

If people keep betraying the union, it will fall. Right now, it’s like the acropolis being held up by cranes, and those cranes are the pro-union actors, agents, and filmmakers who refuse to work with Fi-Core actors. If you are non-union and want to stay non-union, fine. But if you go Fi-Core to make some quick money, harboring the intention of “I’ll get back into the union once it’s fixed,” then the SAG will crumble even more. With every actor going Fi-Core, a little bit more is chipped away from the union. The more actors who selfishly go Fi-Core, the less union work there will be. In order to keep the union strong and growing, we need to stand together. If you have a problem, be proactive in your union. Go to meetings, vote, and make your voice heard! It is possible to flip commercials union; it happens every day. Together, we can get SAG rates up to where they should be, address issues with exclusivity, and we can turn this non-union trend around and get back to doing union work!

#unionworking #unionstrong

Featured image via Nathan DeFiesta on Unsplash


  1. Lost me at corporate greed. At least back up your claim before making such a baseless statement. I’m neither a fan of corporations or unions, but I’m an even lesser fan of poor journalism.

    • You really need a citation for “corporate greed?” Seriously? They have a legal obligation to be greedy it’s the basis of their existence. They’re greedy by design. Obligated to their shareholders period.

  2. While this article is correct regarding the fact that no SAG-AFTRA actor should ever go Fi-Core, it totally misses the primary reasons SAG-AFTRA is the worst actors union ever to exist. SAG-AFTRA has the worst leadership any actors’ unions have ever had. They sell their own membership out every negotiation only to then spend the actors’ dues money to flood their nationwide membership with false propaganda touting what a great job they are doing. They are not “united for strength” of the actors, they support the producers over the needs of the actors repeatedly. The convention system they put in place during the worst union merger deal possible makes it virtually impossible for the membership to remove the horrible leadership at SAG-AFTRA and put in place people who will stand up for actors — and the overwhelming amount of low budget contracts undercuts every contract across the board. I will never go Fi-Core but I will also never support our current lame and corrupt leadership/system.

    • May I please ask for specifics, as you see it, of the ways the Guild is supporting the producers over the needs of the actors? This is an information gathering request to address some of these concerns.

  3. I get what you are saying…really I do. This is going to be a longer post because it needs to be. I hope you will indulge me. As a working UNION actor for 15 years, I was doing the Sit Com circuit starting as Co-Star and then Guest Star, and really moving along nicely. Raphael Berko at media Artists Group was my Theatrical Agent and told me I was one role away from Stardom…based on how fast my momentum was going, and the fact that I always had SAG insurance, I believed him. I was sent out by my Commercial Agent at the time and cast as a SAG Principal in a Bank of America Commercial. A National. As a single mom at the time, I was over the moon. at 6am at the Rose Bowl where we were shooting, I was rehearsing in front of the camera with the Director and DP. A half asleep Grip brought over a huge high roller with heavy lights on it. He placed it near our set-up where we were rehearsing and walked away. He didn’t fully spread the tripod feet of the high roller and it fell over and hit me in the right scapula knocking me to the ground. The makeup man was the only one who rendered aid to me. The director and DP simply asked if I could finish the 2 day shoot. They told me if I didn’t, I would not get the residuals so I acquiesced. I carried a 30 pound girl around for hours for take after take after take because we were telling a story with a beginning a middle and an end. What I found out soon after that shoot is that the impact of the heavy lights that fell on me whiplashed my neck and crushed and shattered the disc in C-5/C-6 in my neck. Ex-ray attached of 4 spinal fusions (from that incident from the same incident I also had 8 screws put in my L-4/L-5 in 2012). Even though my right arm was already becoming paralyzed, it took a full year for SAG to approve an MRI. By that time things had progressed to the point that my Neurologist told me to “get my affairs in order” because I would be paralyzed from the neck down in 2 years, that it was inoperable, and there was nothing they could do for me. I checked with an attorney and learned that my “SAG” contract…the one my Commercial Agent approved blindly had a “no fault” clause that prevented me from suing a co-worker if/when they caused me an injury. It was “iron-clad.” By a series of miracles, I was offered a new kind of surgery by the doctor who created it. He did my surgery for free on March 6, 2000 because my awesome SAG insurance wouldn’t cover him. This doctor/good samaritan saved me when he didn’t have to. I was so terrified to go back on a set, that I was sidelined. I changed my career to Talent Manager which allowed me to be near the work I loved even if it wasn’t me that was doing the acting jobs. I did this for a couple of decades and launched many wonderful people and projects into the Universe. It was one of my greatest joys. Thanks to SAG allowing actors to make $100 per day under the new SAG contracts, a once thriving talent manager career became hand to mouth over time. So there’s that aspect of SAG as well that caused me to give up my staunch loyalty to them. I have had a total of 5 spinal fusions, a rebuilt right elbow, and a rebuilt left shoulder from 2000-2012 and I have had to learn to walk again 5 times. When I retired from talent management a couple of years ago to get back to the career that I loved so much, I told the powers that be over at SAG why I needed to go Fi-Core. To pay off my medical bills that nearly bankrupted me because their contract had let me down. They shamed me as much as the article you posted was designed to shame us. My feeling about all of this is, if the Union wants our loyalty, they have to FULLY offer it back to us. Not just some of us Union members, but ALL of us Union Members. I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty for going Fi-Core. Further, the article is misleading…we certainly CAN still receive residuals from SAG projects (and I do), we certainly CAN still earn our Union Insurance, and we certainly CAN still be hired for Union work and I often am. I am NOT a scab. I am a statistic of a Union that has become so full of itself that it is imploding on it’s own missteps. I get that repping Fi-Core people sets you up for not receiving residuals and that it deeply effects your bottom line on your commissioned income, because it deeply effected my own. However, it may be a good idea to be grateful for the actors who earn for you whether it is Union work or non-union work. Rejoice that people are getting jobs that pay more than a hundred dollars per day. Non Union can often times pay more than Union…and the Union can not keep up with that. Until you have walked a mile in my shoes..as an actor and a talent rep trying to survive on those $100 per day crap projects…..that has been let down by the Union so many times that the only way to make a living is to become Fi-Core…you will not understand the dynamic you are railing against. The Union did NOT protect me as the article you posted touts that it is there for. They did not protect me at all. I think you are great, and you are a scrapper, a fighter, a champion, and I respect you. However…this Union thing and that argument they present is not a blanket fix all. Shaming people for taking care of themselves after being let down by a bully makes everyone who does it a bully too. That’s my 2 cents on the issue. if you have read this far, thank you for listening.

    • Paragraph breaks. They’re important because they make it easy to read a long post.

      Your accident should have been a WORK COMP claim, not a SAG insurance claim. If you were injured on set, work comp should have covered that.

      • After reading her whole story, all you can do is comment on paragraph breaks?! You’re just as heartless as the union she is talking about.

    • Thank you SO much for sharing your story. I’m writing my letter today to enable my fi-core status. You all want to know why? Because I love acting and since joining the union, I hardly do it anymore. I can’t even make a silly show with my friends to post on youtube without all the paperwork and financial commitments…I JUST WANT TO ACT AGAIN.

      I have been staring directly at this decision for months now, trying to figure out where I stood morally. SO many union actors I’ve met along my journey do non-union work behind SAG’s back. I don’t want to be sneaky, I LIKE being honest. And now I will choose to come out and be labeled as a “scab” because I refuse to be a liar.

      Also, it’s really funny how SAG is okay with you being a “rat” (they TELL you to report SAG actors who do non-union work). That just doesn’t fly with me, my union saying “Snitches are okay but scabs are terrible people who don’t care about their fellow actors.” Actually, caring about my fellow actors is NEVER being a snitch when they are making money doing what they love.

      *****I STAND FOR SCAB SAG-CORE*****

  4. Well, I have to step in here and defend SAG/Aftra because there seems to be a few bitter actors in the first four comments. Regardless of the current difficulties with the two factions going at it at the board level, our Union is the sum of its Members. That’s all of us. We’re all the union. If you want change be active in creating that change rather than bitching about it in a forum. I’m involved two committees and attended the Union Working meetings regularly, which is a concerned group of non political working union members trying to save our commercial work.

    The industry has changed. Absolutely because of corporate greed. The author is right. Corporations want more profit and could care less about us. Pretty much since the 2008 recession the disparity between the rich and poor has widened in every industry. That’s when our commercial work started to decline yet ad spending has been rising ever since. The producers and clients and even the production companies don’t want to take hits on their “cut” so end up pushing for non union. The only real fault is our own for taking the non union work. Not only are Fi-Core actors a problem but regular members working off the card “just this once” are a bigger problem. Their selfish greed is literally shooting themselves and every other union member in the foot. Why would any commercial production ever pay full union wages again when they now know they can get union talent at a huge discount. If you’re Fi-core or working off the card, you’re a scab. You’re a selfish ego driven weak actor. period. And I’m sorry anonymous got hurt on set 18 years ago. Sounds like her agent wasn’t looking out for her. Not SAG. But using that as an excuse to screw over everyone one of your union brothers and sisters so you can take crap pay NU work is weak sauce.

    Go get a normal job if times are tough. I have. Union membership does not guarantee us work. It guarantees us fair wages, protection, healthcare, and a pension WHEN we work. You get none of that working a NU gig.

    The ONLY way we’re going to get our wages back is standing firm in solidarity. Proving we’re worth our wages. We got in this union because we’re the best of the best. We need to prove it. If you’re fi-core come back. We know for a fact your not making more on NU work. It’s a race to the bottom. And double dipping betrays every other actor who stands firm with integrity.

    Get involved!!!! UnionWorking.com or on FB and Twitter. The mom or dad’s commercial actors groups on FB are a wealth of info and support. Come to the commercial W&W meetings starting in Sept at SAG. Where us members get to propose changes for the contract negotiations in March next year.

    It’s easy to be a keyboard critic. Prove you’re a real union member and do something about it.

    • As a union member who has kept my day job while doing commercials. . . . I never understand why getting a survival job when you need money is not an option to people when times are hard. I did enough Non Union work before I was union. I was taken advantage of a few times on set and I don’t care how slow it is right now, I am not going Fi-Core to make a buck (and not a very good buck by the way) and be part of the problem.

    • YES. Thank you!!! Exactly. Being injured on set is no excuse to go fi core. If you are currently receiving any type of sag health coverage, you’re benefiting from the union and should support it. I have been a sag member through commercials for 15 years. I’ve had one child and stage 4 cancer last year. My sag insurance covered half a million dollars of medical expenses NO QUESTIONS ASKED. I will never go fi core because I see the big picture not temporary individual gain that can come from making a few thousand bucks in a non union commercial. Oh, and Yes you are a scab.

      • That is incredibly compassionate “proud working union member” and “anon”. You should be proud of yourselves for caring sooo much about other human beings. I’m sure you are progressive people that oh so truly care about and love others. (Not. You are both uncaring scabs. Grow up.) Anon: you especially should be understanding considering that you have gone through tough times. But instead you are using your tough times to say “See? I’m right and you’re not! And by the way, you’re a scab even though I’m imperfect myself and don’t give a damn about others!”. Unbelievable.

  5. I’m sorry to hear that SAG did not support the above poster in her health insurance. However, I absolutely believe that union people who take non union work are weakening the union. On the other hand, I don’t think that SAG is nearly proactive enough in getting more ads into the union camp. I think this every time I send in a posting for a non-union ad to my SAG office and ask them to follow up. Shouldn’t it be a fundamental task of the local to scan the local acting postings and aggressively follow up? After all, I don’t scan these ads every day, but I think they should. It’s the most obvious way to pursue leads.

  6. Where in the heck was the medic? They would have rendered aid and then filled out work/comp paperwork for you.

  7. I feel deeply for every actor who has suffered because the union has failed to protect them. If it happened to anyone in Equity’s jurisdiction during my tenure as 1st V.P., I’d have gone to hell & back (and DID) to help all members so abused. Yes, the union does (on occasion) fail & even abrogate it’s responsibility toward members. [Indeed, I have been the VICTIM of Equity’s failure to protect me in the most egregious fashion which, in fact, ENDED my CAREER.] It is NOT, EVER, an excuse to abandon one’s self respect as a professional to adopt a me, me, me attitude & screw all your colleagues. Get a job at Macy’s, teach, become a tour guide, anything, but hold on to your integrity. Fi-Cor is the euphemism for today, but 30 or 40 years ago it was simply called being a WHORE!

  8. Be part of the solution not the problem. OTC and ficor is union busting. Thanks to all the actors reading this piece who have decided to step into the arena and fight for their professional lives. You honor yourselves. #adsgounion #unionworking #1u

  9. The problem was the merger. SAG lost big and AFTRA gained huge. In every way, on every front. Wages, residuals, health care, pension. The reason for the merger was, surprise, money. The capitulation of the merger-ites to corporate interests, while selling it to the membership as a step forward for actors. Is any actor who was around 20 years ago and working in mainstream union SAG work thinking things are cost-of-living better? No. Not if they are being honest. The A-list did not want work shut downs caused by the 99.5% of the membership that isn’t making millions and getting offers. They sided with merger. The new media contract was truly awful. You simply cannot negotiate forward from the weakness that led to merger. United? We ruled. The things we lost leading up to and after merger are never coming back. Divide and conquer, aided and abetted by merger-enthusiasts, won the day. I worked for 35 years, had a successful career and lived through all these changes. Actors were totally in the drivers seat if we stuck together, rejected merger and used strike as the weapon it can be. We folded. R.I.P.

    • Yes. The merger was because certain people wanted to rescue the other people who had driven AFTRA into the ground by despicable illegal mismanagement. SHAME on them. Before that, my health insurance with SAG was FREE. AND they sent me money to cover Medicare. After merger, the cost of SAG insurance… I mean SAG-AFTRA insurance… is more than I can afford. And it was run so badly that they wouldn’t send me the 10% refund for secondary, despite my supplying them up the wazoo with paperwork.

      AFTRA’s abominable management also screwed me out of my full pension. I was vested for ten years in both unions, and SAG gave me my full pension, but AFTRA insisted I had to have fifteen years. I knew something was wrong since no other union was doing that. Well, they were trying to hide their criminal mismanagement, and they won and I lost. I will never forgive any of those who pushed this through. But Karma is a bitch, and they will get theirs when what goes around comes around.

  10. What makes no sense to me whatsoever is that there are many many commercial jobs in which the rest of the crew is union (DGA, Teamsters, etc) and the only group within the production that is non union talent. Why haven’t we banded together with the other entertainment unions to say they will not work with non-union talent?

    • This is my main gripe, as well. I hear about so many jobs where they mandate that crew is union then hire non union actors. Does anyone remember a few years ago when one of the unions was on strike and marching around the studios? I remember actors refused to cross a sister unions picket line and many turned down jobs and auditions because of this. Where is our support now?

      • Yes. So for commercials, what determines the crew being union is the production company, and what determines On Camera Talent is the ad agency. So the clients will hire an ad agency that isn’t a signatory, but hires a production company that is IATSE. We need to bridge the gap here so the sister unions support us.

  11. It feels like it’s too late already. SAG should have stopped all the non-union commercials 10 years ago before it blew up into this catastrophe we’re in now. And don’t get me started on Netflix! It’s the downfall of the entire industry. Talk about zero residuals. The middle class working actor is about to be extinct. I’m open to suggestions and optimistic ideas!

  12. 1.) Why doesn’t the union go after these companies doing n/u commercials? Walmart, Target, restaurants, insurance companies, etc?
    2.) Not all n/u commercials are “in perpetuity”. The n/u commercials that I work on are buy outs with usually a year, 18 month or 2 year stipulation with decent fair pay. If they are “in perpetuity”, I won’t do them and my agent won’t submit on those. I have also done quite a few n/u commercials that were renegotiated after the time expired.
    3.) I have also done a few n/u commercial that never aired. One in particularl paid the session rate and buy out of $5000. If that were SAG, I would have only received only the session rate. BTW, one was for BLUE CROSS and the other for SUBWAY (again, why are they even allowed to go n/u).
    4.) My friend worked principal on the second season of REAL ROB for Netflix (he also auditioned for it). In the breakdowns, it was listed as “SAG New Media”. He was paid $125 for a speaking principal role opposite Rob Schneider and with him directing. He also called about residuals to see how much he would make. Each episode is given $600 to split up with the entire guest cast. He will make about $30 for residuals. How can you even make a living on those kinds of rates? There isn’t any “new media” any more.

    • I had a similar experience with a “new media” Netflix show. I auditioned for it, and was offered a guest-star multiple-episode role. Since accepting it would have meant backing out of two AEA theatre gigs I had already agreed to do, I wanted some details to help me make up my mind, things like how many episodes, when they might shoot, in which city or cities, how much I’d get paid… little things like that. My agents never could get a straight answer out of the producer on the schedule, which was understandable as the thing was still being written and was to be filmed in locations all over the world. But the pay? A few hundred per day of shooting. Not per episode: per day. If they could shoot two episodes of material in one day? One day’s pay. Five episodes of material in one day? One day’s pay. I turned it down. And I still can’t believe my “union” would permit such a thing.

      • So you misunderstood how block shooting works… for that day of shooting 5 episodes, you get paid for 5 episodes. So you work one day but get paid for five. I have worked three shows shot this way and that how it worked. So two full paychecks for a day’s work. They are paid as separate jobs. OT is only paid on one of them if it happens.

  13. when is it greed to want to pay your bills. do better getting producers to hire union actors AROUND THE COUNTRY and the rest of us will stop trying to make ends meet.

    • or….you can just get another job if this one isn’t paying your bills. If you worked at a bank as a teller but your manager came to you one day and said they’re cutting your shifts down from 5, to 2 a week. Would you steal the shifts from your fellow bank teller or would you just go find another job?

  14. My opinion is that joining SAG/AFTRA should NOT be only reserved for actors whom producers decide to hire twice and then the actor “must join”. This creation of a false validation of being “good enough” to be a member because of a couple producers wanting to hire you is just plain stupid. Membership should not be some “exclusive club” pretending to be based on talent but instead based on commitment to the union and it’s rules and regulations. Becoming a SAG/AFTRA member should be OPEN to ANYONE and EVERYONE who is committed to supporting the union by committing to refuse work that is non-union or fi-core..PERIOD. Anyone who scabs receives a fine and a warning, second offense, out for life. It is not the unions job to weed out the talented from the not talented. That is the job of agents, casting directors, auditions and the business itself. We need to let go of the idea that SAG/AFTRA membership represents some made up, non-quantifiable amount of talent and allow ALL actors to join SAG/AFTRA because of their passion, drive, commitment and support of SAG/AFTRA and it’s rules, benefits and protections. If the union actively recruited new young actors graduating colleges or acting programs and opened up to the next generation to be a part of the profession right from the start, we could starve out commercial producers ability to use non-union actors by making non-union actors far harder to find. That’s my two cents. I would love to hear opposition or supporting ideas. Thanks.

    • Except all that does is give SAG more money via dues and does not fix the current mess they have created with commercials and new media. In fact it makes it worse by flooding the market further.

  15. It’s a high supply/ low demand endeavor. There’s no way the industry can support everyone that wants to be an actor – or writer – or director – or any other highly desirable creative occupation. SAG packed the house with actors to generate fees, and there’s no way it can keep them all as busy as they want to be.

    That said, I do agree that corporate consolidations and drive for revenue and profitability growth Q by Q. There’s sort of a sociopathic aspect to corporations, by design. What’s in it for them, and only them, the cogs that create the content that drives revenue must be replaceable, or the machine is beholden to them.

    But on the very rare occasion the actor becomes a star, the tables turn. Now the actor her/ him self IS content. They get airtime just by showing up. They commit to a film, it’s funded. They get what they want because now the machine is beholden to them. And guess what? They use that leverage to cut the best deals for themselves. Who wouldn’t?

    That’s how most corporations think. If you have the advantage, use it. Serve your shareholders. When a bankable star takes scale to work on a low-budget indie because it’s a “passion project” it makes the trades and often the mainstream media. Not because it’s a great project, necessarily,
    but because a STAR attached. When that happens I’m sure someone’s done the numbers on the net PR, marketing, distribution and box office (or ratings) benefit to the producers, and that leverage is calculated into the star’s back end position. Tom Hanks/ Forrest Gump. See?

    Corporations aren’t going to change because a bunch of underemployed actors call them bad names.

    You want leverage? Then bust your ass and create your own content. Work hard and make it good. Today you can make a full length feature on the phone in your hand. So do that. But expecting things to return to the way they were, or expecting a union not to worry about its own adaoptation and survival before yours are unrealistic views.

    Create something they want to buy, and then you call the shots.

    My two cents. For what it’s worth.

  16. 20 years ago cameras were more expensive. 20 years ago there were fewer actors in town. 20 years ago not as many people could edit, or do vfx.

    We have reached a point where the supply of ‘talent’ has exceeded the demand which has pushed the prices down. This is BASIC macro-economics, true for all industries involved in capitalism and not ‘corporate greed’ as the author states.

    No one is stopping you from making your own thing, so if you want to act, guess what, write a script, pick up a camera and act. You might not get paid for it but guess what sugar pie, that’s art. If you’re lucky your art will bring you commerce. Otherwise stop complaining, nobody ‘deserves’ to get paid to pretend.

    The ONLY reason I joined the union was to be eligible for union gigs; the actors’ union will always be the weakest because it truly does not take anything to be an actor, it is a frivolous pursuit with no metric for qualification, which is why a union of actors is honestly a joke.

    • Horsehocky! Never in the history of motion media have actors been in higher demand. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, original content on basic cable television and premium channels like Showtime, commercials created exclusively for online and social media, branded content, even industrial and corporate videos. Actors are needed more than ever before.

      Maybe the only other time actors were in greater demand was in the heyday of Vaudeville and the stage, before motion pictures and the “talkies” came into existence.

      And to say that “it truly does not take anything to be an actor, it is a frivolous pursuit with no metric for qualification, which is why a union of actors is honestly a joke” tells me you are a disgruntled actor who couldn’t act their way out of a wet paper bag with directions and a GPS. Acting is one of the oldest professional pursuits in the world. Long before there was the IT Guy, the fast food franchise, the typewriter repairman, or the cab driver there was the actor – right up there with the doctor, the undertaker, the lawyer and the accountant. And the acting profession will be around far longer than you, me, yours and my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren all put together.

  17. Sorry you were hurt on set. Surely there was more that could be done. If you get hurt in a set that is negligence and that should hold up in court. Either workman’s comp or the production company has insurance for such things. I will never did a non union commerical. I’ve started to look for a better paying job as commerical auditions have dried up for me. I’m tired if having agents ask me if I’ll do non union commericals avenue though they know I’m sag. It’s a race to the bottom and I want no part of it. Whatever happened to solidarity? It’s become a me me me society. People like to say I had to go non union fi core. No you didn’t. You chose to take a short cut to get make some money. I’d rather have 5 000 dollars than nothing they say. As If 5000 is enough pay for selling out your fellow union actors. If 5000 is enough to live on after commission and taxes in Los Angeles, please direct to the tent City you are living in . I have a lot of compassion and empathy in my heart for all people. But it’s hard to have it for the fi core friends who do it knowing they’re scabs and that it weakens the union. I came to get the gold not the bronze. I don’t think it can be fixed. What power does the union really have anyway in regards to commercials? It’s not a star driven medium. The common working man hears we re fighting to keep ajob that pays 30 grand for ones day work they find it hard to be sympathetic to our cause. They don’t factor in the jobs we’ve lost because we had to call out for an audition one too many times. The running around town at the last minute. The training costs, etc. We chose this line of. Work and now we have to fight off the scabs. All in the name of I have to feed my family. Stay strong union members!

  18. Once SAG is busted, the rest of the performing unions will fall! Do you see the need for ONE UNION yet? SAG + AFTRA + AEA = ACTORS UNION

  19. Ha. Screw SAG. They don’t look out for us, why should I care? I’m in it for me. At the last SAG event, they mentioned something about us being required to register our web content with them. HAHAHAHAHA! They are very shady. They care about one thing and one thing only. Your membership dues. Bye SAG. Within 10 years, you’ll be gone.

  20. If you don’t want SAG/AFTRA members to become Fi-Core then do two things: Don’t make the barrier to entry/remain so high and have contracts that pay a living wage, something we can feed our families with.

    First, the unions who support the below the line crew like the cinematographers, audio technicians, make up artists and the rest – IATSE, IBEW and there is another but I forget at the moment – don’t force their members to work only on union projects. They can work on union and non union projects back and forth as much as they want. The one proviso is that if there is an action against a production company, studio, network, etc then members shall not cross the picket line or there will be hell to pay.

    Contrast that to SAG/AFTRA who punish their members for working on non union projects and shame you for electing to go Fi-core. No one, not even a union should force you, under normal working conditions, to choose one side or the other but not both. No one has the right to tell you that you are not allowed to earn enough money to put food on the table if doing so means working both sides. Furthermore, union casting directors cast for both union and non union productions. And agents represent both union and non union actors. They work both sides of the fence yet for some reason, only actors are supposed to choose only one side or the other and stay there, like they are applying to the mafia or something.

    Then there is the other issue – pay. Show me the professional, actor or otherwise who can live on a measly $125 per day. That rate for 8 hours is $15.63 per hour which is what many states and cities have mandated as their MINIMUM WAGE. So those expensive headshots and expensive acting classes and expensive wardrobe that you need to get work and do your job earns you as much as the burger flipper at the local McDonald’s. It has been a while since I last worked a fast food job but when I did you didn’t need all these expensive things just to get a job. Not to mention giving up 10% of that measly pay to the person who sent you to that job interview. And in the minimum wage fast food job you didn’t work only one or two days then start the job hunting process all over again, unless of course you were a complete incompetent moron. If they want actors to stay a standard member and not elect to become Fi-core then they could raise the ULB and short film rates to where the MLB rates are now and adjust the MLB and LB rates accordingly. Oh, and NO MORE ludicrous “deferred pay” jobs, unless it is a student film. Student films are a different animal because they are making the film in order to pass a class. Members are supposed to pay $3,000 just to join the union and then be subjected to working on a deferred pay jobs on a feature film, pilot or other production? I say not!

    If the union doesn’t get out of their fat, drunken stupor – which by the way is no way to go through life – they won’t even exist in five years time. Trump and his cohorts are working precipitously to eliminate unions all together in this country. So if SAG/AFTRA wants larger membership roles and to remain relevant they had better stop being so penurious with their rules to join/remain in the union and force the companies/studios/networks to pay the actors enough to keep a roof over our heads.

  21. I feel I need to chime in here. First of all, I’m a card-carrying member of SAG-AFTRA. I see the benefit of this guild, and all the good they’ve done for actors from the beginning, as well as the benefits of unions and guilds overall in any industry.

    That being said, I can’t blame actors who choose to exercise their legal right to elect financial core status. It’s part of the federal law — for all unions — for a reason. We can “shame” fi-core actors all we want, but the truth is, they’re being far more honest and legal than the countless other actors who secretly work “off the card.” I have far more respect for a fi-core actor than someone who works off the card. And I meet both types, all the time. At least a fi-core actor is honest. They have integrity. And they made a commitment that has consequences. They gave up voting rights and other perks, as mentioned in this article. And they know they’ll be shamed and guilted by union members and staffers for their decision. All that so they can work (sometimes) lower-paying, non-union jobs.

    I don’t care that SAG-AFTRA calls them “fee-paying non-members.” You can call them purple unicorn ninjas if you want, it doesn’t change the fact that 1) they had to qualify to become a member first, 2) they paid the same join fee as everyone else, 3) they continue to pay the same dues as everyone else (okay, technically 4% less that would’ve gone to political spending anyway), and 4) still are legally and financially treated identical to any other union actor on a union job. If they joined the union and pay their dues, they’re a member. A different KIND of a member, yes, but they’re still paying dues which does support the union too.

    The author of this article said, “Commercials are going non-union. And, like dominoes, more and more other projects are also starting to go non-union.”

    There’s a reason for that, and I really believe it has little to do with fi-core actors and EVERYTHING to do with the way technology, business models, and the economy continues to rapidly change. We could have EVERY actor (including all the current fi-core and non-union ones) be full union members, band together, and refuse to work any non-union commercials. And you know what? That still wouldn’t change anything. We’re fighting against a tidal wave much bigger than the entire entertainment industry itself.

    I knew commercials were in trouble the day TiVo was invented. Then when Netflix came along, cable TV was next. We’re STILL in the transition period. But I’m telling you now — commercials will continue to get cheaper and cheaper. Because they HAVE to be. Commercials could afford SAG-AFTRA rates when they were national (or at least regional) ads that ran for multiple weeks or months, designed for broad demographics. But now commercials are running in much more localized, targeted markets (thanks to streaming content, apps, websites, etc). Technology now knows who you are (age, sex, personal interests, income level, and more), where you live, and so on. We give all that info when we fill out social media profiles, do searches and visit websites (cookies), and grant those permissions when installing a new app on our phones. And advertisers can use that to run small, cheap ads specifically targeting YOU. But that also means they’re targeting a smaller, more niche market/demographic, which means they’re not making as much revenue per ad, and thus can’t fit into their budget paying these high union contract fees that were designed for a previous era.

    It’s not corporate greed and ad agencies aren’t trying to bust the union. The business model is just changing, and we need an entirely new way of thinking, and entirely new contract, to meet the evolving needs of advertisers.

    Here’s an article written in 2015, an early warning of the oncoming changes we’re seeing more and more of today:


    In the past, commercials were very lucrative for actors. But that’s the past. I think those glory days are more or less behind us (with the exception of a few, less common national ad spots which are mostly hiring celebrities anyway). But don’t worry. The money’s still out there in the economy. It’s just changing where it’s coming from and how it’s being paid.

    And in interest of time and space, I’m not even going to get into Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Facebook, and all the others who are getting into creating more and more streaming content. Our residual structure for theatrical work is the next big thing to change too.

    Maybe it’ll correct itself over time. For example, we might start seeing much higher day rates, in exchange for fewer long-term residuals. But before that happens, I believe, we’re going to see more of what we’re seeing now: struggling, stressed out actors trying to make ends meet. Worse than any time previously in history.

    I don’t mean to be doom and gloom. This is just how I see the BUSINESS MODEL changing. And during a transition period, things are a little rough and uncertain. People get scared and desperate. I don’t blame actors for going fi-core just to survive.

    I also don’t believe fi-core actors hurt the union like most people think. The theory I hear all the time is, “if producers can hire fi-core actors at non-union rates, why would they ever go union and pay more?” That’s a fair question. So let me ask you another question in response. “Why do producers ever pay above scale?”

    The answer: two reasons. First, union actors (usually, hopefully) are more experienced, talented, professional, reliable actors. So you’re paying for that. And two, more importantly, fundraising, marketing, and distribution.

    When a producer’s putting together a budget for a new film or TV show, and they’re going to investors to raise money, one of the first questions an investor will often ask (rightly or not) is “who’s gonna be in it?” Because both the producer and investor know that star power is real power. Star power sells tickets and draws audiences. That’s why nearly every big movie has name actors, or at the very least, is advertised with “directed by some famous director you already know and love” or “brought to you by the same people who made this other film you loved.” It’s all about marketing.

    A producer knows that if they hire a name actor, their show or film will (likely) be more profitable, even at the higher union rates. And they pay ABOVE scale to attract better quality talent and bigger name talent. Period. There’s no other reason to pay more than the minimum than that, from a business standpoint. If producers could pay less, they would. And it has NOTHING to do with whether or not their talent is in a union.

    Because as you know, there’s plenty of incredibly talented, good looking, professional, reliable NON-UNION actors out there too. And on the other hand, many union actors only joined through collecting background vouchers, with no actual training or principal acting experience whatsoever, and those actors can sometimes be unreliable and unprofessional, even though they’re in the union. Or maybe their friend cast them in a no budget, deferred pay New Media short film — and that’s how they got in. Either way, there was no real vetting process, just a little luck, patience, or a friend with a camera in some people’s cases.

    Union status doesn’t mean you’re better or worse. And producers and casting directors know that. If being in the union meant you were a good actor, they wouldn’t need to audition us all the time. A decent headshot and reel, along with proof of union membership, would be sufficient — if union membership honestly meant we were “the best of the best.” But it doesn’t guarantee anything, so they have to meet and audition everybody, just like the non-union folks.

    If anything, union members could support — or at least be neutral about — fi-core actors who are out there working, because they’re building a name and star power for themselves. Once they have a name and producers start wanting them because they’re “hot,” THAT’S when the actor should be exclusively union. Producers will sign union contracts and pay everybody union scale (or better), in order to get the name actor they want and need.

    Without name actors, they don’t get funding. Even if they get funding, they won’t get meaningful distribution without some kind of name talent attached to their project. What really matters is that our celebrities are exclusively union actors. And the rest of us middle level and beginner actors will benefit from working with them in those projects.

    Switching gears here, as much as I love SAG-AFTRA for all the good they do, I kinda also have to feel like they’re creating their own fi-core problem at the same time. Three vouchers from working background and you can join? No training, no credits, no agent, no other experience or education whatsoever? No apprenticeship or anything. Or the New Media loophole, which they’ve only made worse in my opinion. In the past, you could do a deferred pay New Media short and give yourself or your friends eligibility. But too many unethical producers abused that, and SAG-AFTRA changed the rules. Now you can’t get eligibility that way — but still if you do one (even on deferred pay), you’re now “able to join” directly, without having that intermediary “SAG-eligible” status or step. It’s confusing. You’re not officially “eligible,” but fork over $3,000 anytime after doing one of those projects and you’re in. Many agents won’t consider an actor unless they’re either eligible or union, so a hopeful actor says, “well, I guess I’ll just join now so I can get a good agent.” I’m also not crazy about the “must join” status, after just two jobs. What if the actor feels they’re not ready yet? Doesn’t matter: SAG says join, so you join and hope for the best!

    And then, once they’re in the union, work opportunities slow down significantly (especially commercials, but theatrical too), and savings run out, side jobs aren’t enough because LA’s just getting more and more ridiculously expensive and you still need some open flexibility to attend those auditions during the day, they get scared and desperate, and fi-core seems like the obvious answer. It’s legal, it’s honest, and now they can work BOTH union and non-union jobs. So I get it. I understand why some choose that path. I don’t shame them. And I honestly don’t believe that fi-core actors are ACTUALLY weakening the union. Outdated, inflexible contracts are. Including high day rates that producers can’t afford because of competition, the economy, and new business models.

    Fortunately, SAG-AFTRA is trying to catch up. Not fast enough, in my opinion. But they’re working on it. They just released a new “Short Project” agreement, for low budget producers who aren’t sure what kind of distribution their little film will end up having. (It’s basically a hybrid between the New Media and Short Film contracts, giving producers a little more flexibility.) It’s a start.

    Another big issue I have is SAG-AFTRA’s overreach into everything that remotely could potentially maybe possibly one day look like a film or show. Like, for example, say you want to start a podcast talking about your favorite comic books with a friend. It’s free; no one’s getting paid, it’s just you and your buddy, and you release it online totally free, with no sponsors, no expectation of ever making a dime. It’s just a passion project. Well, SAG-AFTRA expects you to sign a New Media agreement for your little podcast, since you are a union actor appearing in a podcast. Yes, they literally expect you to sign a contract WITH YOURSELF, promising to give yourself good working conditions and fair wages, on your own for-free, just-for-fun project. You literally can’t turn on your own webcam and start creating content, by yourself, for YouTube, without the union’s blessings and signing a contract with and for yourself. It’s ridiculous.

    I’m not talking about “projects with budgets under $50,000.” I’m talking about “projects with budgets under $500…or free, zero, zip, no money spent at all!” WHY oh WHY does SAG-AFTRA require us to fill out an application, wait three weeks for approval, fill out a preliminary cast report (it’s just me, silly!), timesheets, weekly reports, etc for something SO SMALL that ISN’T EVEN MADE FOR PROFIT. It’s not a “job” — no one’s getting paid. But it’s considered non-union “work” (and therefore now you can get in trouble for “working off the card,” on your own project) unless you sign all their paperwork… oh, and you should have workers comp PLUS general liability insurance ($1 million policy) required as part of that paperwork you sign with SAG-AFTRA … to film yourself in your own room, even if by yourself. I know many actors go fi-core just to be able to create their OWN content without all the hassle, delays, and expense the union requires for something that, literally and honestly, doesn’t even deserve to be on their radar.

    If no one’s getting paid, and you’re not trying to sell it, it’s not “work” — it’s “art.” But SAG-AFTRA calls it work, and members have been asking for a simple waiver for member-producers creating their own no-budget content for years, and last I heard, the union’s response is always and still “we’re looking into it.” It’s not hard. I can create one right now. All you need is one page: title of project, name of member-producer, and a promise to sign the appropriate SAG-AFTRA contract if/when your project gains paid distribution or begins generating revenue any other way. Boom. Done. Sign it, submit it online to SAG so they have it on record, and you’re good to go! But currently, SAG-AFTRA makes it slow, difficult, and inconvenient for its OWN MEMBERS to create their own content, which in a worst case scenario does nothing (never gets finished or never gets any views) or in a best case scenario, makes the actor famous and now they have star power, and actual producers and professional directors want them, and are willing to become a union signatory to hire them.

    Instead, actors feel frustrated that SAG makes it difficult for them to do what made them join the union in the first place: act. And so they go fi-core to be able to legally act, even in their own no-budget passion projects. But now that they’re fi-core…even if they do get famous and hired for bigger paid productions, there’s less incentive for them to insist on making that production a signatory (which would help the rest of us working actors). The producer might just pay them a ton of money (because they’re famous), but keep the project non-union.

    Fi-core actors aren’t the problem. They’re (or at least, most of them) are just people trying to do what they came here to do. Be an actor. The real problem is change brought by new technology and evolving new business models, made worse by SAG-AFTRA letting people join with little to no experience.

    If only seasoned, proven, well-experienced, well-trained principal actors could join, that’d be a different story. Then union actors really would be “the best of the best.” If SAG made it easy for members to create their own content with little to no hassle, then it’d be different. If SAG adapted more rapidly to changing technology and business models, then it’d be different. But things are changing too fast. We’re all having trouble keeping up. I know SAG-AFTRA is doing the best it can. They do a lot of good too, I’m not ignoring that; nobody’s perfect. But we’re looking to the past. Commercials USED to mean big money. Residuals USED to be a big part of our income. You can hashtag #AdsGoUnion all you want, that’s not going to change the fundamental economics that required more and more commercials to start going non-union in the first place.

    In the past, you had a few big movie studios and a few major TV networks, that created broad content for the general, mainstream masses. No there’s an overwhelming tide of independent low and mid budget films — and more TV channels than we can count. PLUS Netflix and all the other competing streaming services. There’s more jobs and opportunities for actors than ever before. That’s the good news. And as audiences, we have more choice and custom, personalized, niche entertainment like never before. That’s awesome.

    But as content becomes more specialized and focused on smaller niche demographics, the budgets shrink down in proportion. We need more flexibility and faster adaptation in our contracts. And our contracts need to be friendlier to small and medium sized productions, too. I have a producer friend who’s doing an indie film. She wants SAG actors. She’s a SAG signatory. But she’s often expressed so much frustration and difficulty in complying with all of SAG’s requirements that honestly were intended for bigger productions than hers — but this was still the best-fit contract for her film project. Making a feature film is already hard enough, especially on a small budget. I totally get why producers need a bond. (In the past, sometimes a production went bust and actors never got paid. Now they put a bond on deposit with SAG, which the producer gets back later.) But for many of these indie films, that’s just an added cost they can’t afford, making SAG projects LESS attractive to do.

    It shouldn’t be that way. SAG needs to be more producer-friendly. Not in “give everything away to producers.” No. (Although, seemingly, many of our recent contracts seem to be doing that, sadly.) I mean make their life easier to DO a SAG project. Make it attractive, irresistible to be a SAG signatory. Give different options. “You’re an indie film and can’t afford the bond? Ok, then instead you have to cut our actors a check for each work day, at the time they’re wrapped…” or SOMETHING.

    You can get great actors anywhere, union or otherwise. But if you want a name actor, to help fund and distribute your film, that requires a union actor. Thankfully. And they’re the main reason we still have as many union productions as we do.

    So let fi-core actors be fi-core. It’s their life, their business. Just, if any fi-core actor reads this, if you ever do become a name actor and start commanding above scale rates — make sure the producer hiring you makes it a SAG signatory project — so we can all benefit and grow together.

    And if any fi-core actor reads this and is considering coming back to SAG as a full member, the author of this article may have been given incorrect information. I heard from someone on the fi-core committee at SAG-AFTRA a few months ago that they absolutely WANT to welcome fi-core members back into the fold. Yes, there’s a review in front of a disciplinary committee. But if you want to get your card back and return to being a full member, and are willing to pay the fees and only work union from now on, with rare special exceptions (from what I’m told) they do in fact want you back.

    • Thank for for a clear and logical statement. This perhaps should have been the article rather than the original.

    • Forget the original article, this is the most logical, well-written section of this entire page. The author should publish this and have it shared so that it gets to the #1 spot on Google because it provides the most fair and accurate description of the discussion by far.

    • I only have time to read about half of this right now but wanted to comment and say THANK YOU for putting out a perspective that I’ve yet to really see explained well – the perspective of business and economics.

      I get it, trying to get acting work is freaking hard. But let’s not forget that the entertainment industry is a business. Every production we are trying to get a job from has people who investing money to make this production happen with the expectation of a return. If they don’t get a return then they’ll be less incentivized to invest again which hurts us all as there will be less projects.

      So when I hear numbers like $1000,000 being paid to an actor for one commercial, I just think how does the value of what that actor is doing justify that cost to the production when there are literally millions of others who could do it if you didn’t? Especially considering that most commercial (and co star/guest star) shoots are only a couple days. Now, I could understand the justification if a particular actor brings something that most likely brought the client/investors $1000,000+ in business that other actors wouldn’t have (which is why I understand celebrities getting paid like this), but, as a commercial actor myself, I’ve never understood the argument that we should be getting paid a ton of money for a generic role when we’re only working a couple days. Don’t get me wrong, I’d take the money. But I also don’t complain when a job is only a couple thousand because I think it justifies the value I’m bringing (again for a generic local commercial role).

      So all that to say, I’m not really surprised that the union’s effort don’t seem to be holding up. With this much supply for not enough demand, the union has no leverage.

      I get it, we’re artists trying to bring art and thoughtful story telling to the world. But if we’re trying to pursue this as a full time career, then that means we’re in the world of business as well and we need to think that way.

    • THIS. Thank you for your sane, logical statement. I agree that this statement should be published as its own article. Members and non-members need to see this. SAG needs to see this. We absolutely need more of this type of nuanced discussion. I am non-union, but if there is anything we readers can do to amplify your voice, let us know.

    • Most of the above comment is correct and should be posted as an article on its own to be found on Internet searches on this subject. People have a right to go FICOR. That is just a legal fact. Why do people choose FICOR? For three reasons:
      1. Perhaps some do because they are very wealthy and membership in the union is immaterial to them. That is probably a small number but in this industry only a small number actually now make a sizable income and fewer qualify for benefits than I think the public believes.
      2. Some may choose to leave the union for ideological reasons, because they feel excluded or they find the atmosphere hostile. That is a tragedy and the union should work to be a nonpartisan home for all serious actors. The only people who should feel unwelcome are those who engage in proven criminal conduct that is not the subject of political debate or current legal proceedings that could hurt the reputation and safety of other members of the union.
      3. Then there are those who believe that they can make a better living as non-union actors. There are amateur actors. There are non-union actors. There are union actors. For some people who work nonunion jobs that may be the right call. Think of them as semi-pro baseball or football players in the days before colleges became farm teams for the professionals. Should the union be in those markets? Can we work out a formula for allowing our members to work some jobs while viewing lower cost or commercial market productions that do not rely on A-list SAG talent as a farm team or minor league?

      The problems in SAG-Aftra come from the conflict between the interests of the Union, in gaining fees through increased membership, and the Membership, in raising wages and benefits through restricting membership and increasing the reputational value of being in the guild. This is the Principle-Agent problem that afflicts any large organization. BTW going forward I will refer to the merged union as SAG as a shorthand so please do not correct me as a response.

      When SAG was a stand alone union dealing with a limited number of Producers the problem was manageable. In essence two small clubs negotiated with each other and the talent pool was small, with most coming from the stage. While most serious professional actors still start on stage and while most producers value a resume with stage work on it more than any number of Low Budget film projects or Upgrades from Background the pool of people calling themselves Union actors has expanded dramatically. This depresses the value and wages of all actors. This flooding of the market with unprofessionals comes from two sources. First is the merger with Aftra. While there were many fine actors in Aftra, almost all of whom were also in SAG and AEA, there were also thousands of people who had simply bought their membership or perhaps received one as a birthday present. That might be discounted as a one off problem but it continues because of the low standards for qualification for new Membership in the merged union. There are two ways to qualify. By receiving a Principle contract or through Background Vouchers.

      In my humble opinion membership in SAG should be based on prior qualification for membership in AEA or some equivalent certification of professional standing. Full disclosure, I qualified through an Upgrade to a Principle contract without myself qualifying to join AEA. We may want to consider how our sister union Equity deals with professional development and certification and with the employment of their members in productions that also hire non-Equity talent.

      Let us talk about Background. While it is no longer possible to simply buy a membership it is possible to qualify by receiving three vouchers for work as a Background Actor on a SAG contract. Why are some Background positions covered by the SAG contract? Originally they were not. In the culture Background is not considered Acting. Productions routinely refer to Background as Extras or sometimes as Furniture as opposed to the Actors, meaning the Principles. In California there was a separate Screen Extras Guild. When that folded SAG put in coverage for some Background positions in the contrast for the LA and NY regions. The theory was that some positions should be held for members of the union who were otherwise unemployed. Producers and Directors would see known actors and there was a possibility of them getting a part either as an Upgrade or on a later project. It was less than an audition but part of the business. It was a benefit offered to recognized actors. There also had been a possibility of covering the Background positions in another union, such as the Teamsters.

      There is a wealth of talent working in Background. Often there are people sitting in Holding with a list of Equity credits longer than your arm. Former Chorus Boys with great stories may be gossiping but if asked to they can drop into character and give a great performance. However there are also too many who have no intention of acting and who showed up for Crafty and a meal or who even vanished after check in and then showed up again at wrap. There are also people even in the union who act unprofessionally by approaching the principles or using their phones and cameras on set. While some PAs and Principles encourage a professional respectful atmosphere far too often Background are treated like cattle or worse. Team Building Leadership skills should be included in the training for DGA and PGA advancement.

      When the merger happened then the pool of people competing for the covered slots expanded, which drove down the reputation of the union actors working Background. The voucher system has if anything entrenched the problem. The union now benefits by collecting fees from thousands of nonprofessional actors. When Gossip Girl was filming I think that every matron in NYC got her daughter a union card through the show. At the same time union actors are prohibited from taking open uncovered positions, even after every union job covered in the contract is filled.

      The union cannot under the law force the Producers to hire union talent. The union does order its members not to apply for positions not covered by the contract with Producers who are in compliance with the contract. Can the union request that Producers consider unemployed members of the union for any open jobs, as either Background or a Production Assistant?

      There is certainly more that can be done to make the union both easier and more worth while to work with. That like many important jobs is not a one time event but must be a continuous process. In NY the Late local head Mike Hodge had as his motto, “Hard to say No to. Easy to work with.” Progress has been made but more needs to be done. Over the last several years it has become clear that the effects of technology have made it ever more critical that the union make sure that possession of a membership card be recognized as a certification of professional standing as valuable to an employer as is a certification that someone is a Master Electrician or Plumber. We are competing not only with tens of thousands of amateurs here but also with 19 year olds in China and the Philippines who can create a performance with John Gielgud on a computer for a fraction of the cost of hiring me. With all due modesty I cannot compete with dead Gielgud. The devastating affects of the Pandemic to our society and economy, especially to the live theater that we should draw our talent from, makes the need to strengthen our core value all the greater.

      The last thing that I want to say is delicate. SAG is a private sector union. It should not be involved in politics. The first reason for that is simple. We need to encourage the existence of as many employers as possible and we want them no matter their private concerns and interests to do business with us. The second reason is also simple. We exist to serve our audience and we do not survive if we antagonize them. We hope that the public consumes our work and is both entertained and enlightened. If they receive and consider the work we do as Performing Artists then they may become better people who make better choices. That is all to the good. However a large number of people, on either side of many issues in our deeply divided society, are now so angry that will refuse to consume, refuse to watch or attend a performance. That is a failure on our part. It is also bad business. Finally there is the third reason which also I hope is simple. It is the wrong thing to do and even if most of the members and leadership agree on a position then members, even or especially if they remain silent, will feel pressured. That is not only wrong as a matter of their civil rights but it will drive some out of the union. If you believe that we need all the support that we can get then the conduct of partisan politics under the union label must stop. For those who claim that it has not happened and that political activity is kept separate I ask you not to insult my intelligence. By all means voice your opinions but do not do so as part of or in the name of the union.

  22. I am still not understanding why so many people are posing the argument that SAG jobs pay more so that means we shouldn’t go Fi-Core. Fi-Core would still allow me to take those jobs. I went from making $10,000 a year in non-union jobs to zero this year. It’s hard for someone to argue that I am better off, or that if I just wait long enough it will be worth it. Getting screeners and voting isn’t going to pay my bills. I would love to only work SAG jobs. That’s not happening, and it seems the argument is that it would be better for me to have my card and not work.

    • If ‘Cosby Show’ actor Geoffrey Owens (who played Elvin Tibideaux) was allowed to work non union jobs perhaps he wouldn’t have needed to get a job at that Trader Joe’s in NJ. He could have continued putting a roof over his head through acting and not resort to working part time at a grocery store. It’s more beneficial to an actor, professionally as well as personally to keep acing regardless if it’s union or not rather than working a job in another field just to pay your bills. You might be able to put a roof over your head working at a grocery store but you won’t be flexing your acting muscles there. However you will flex those muscles AND pay your bills on the set of a paying commercial, industrial or indie film, even if they are non union. SAG/AFTRA needs to wake the F up.

  23. Well this really makes SAG look like a union that can’t even support it’s members. Two actors, Geoffrey Owens from “The Cosby Show” and Nate Richert from “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” have resorted to work menial jobs to get by and support their families. If they were better taken care of by SAG or were allowed to work non union jobs they could support their families solely through acting instead of these other jobs. $300-500 per day on a non union acting job sure beats $80 per day doing these menial jobs when the SAG jobs aren’t available.
    “Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s Nate Richert Reveals He’s a Janitor as He Supports Geoffrey Owens” – https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/sabrina-teenage-witch-apos-nate-154002613.html

  24. One thing a lot of film and TV actors do not know is that IATSE Local 600, the camera guild, which is also film and TV, allows its members to work both union and non-union jobs because it knows it is tough out there and people need to work, gig to gig.

    Why can’t SAG do the same, and allow its members to WORK? SAG has a terrible employment ratio. Most SAG members do not work. SAG needs to do the same as IATSE.

  25. if you want to make a good living, go to college and major in something useful. dont get a degree in lib arts, gender studies, or basket weaving. unions are only for people that have no marketable skills and a poor work ethic. “i wanna be famous, i wanna tell everyone i have a cool job so i can feel important.” absolutely pathetic. i speant 10 years working every field in the industry and i got so sick of you self entitled people that are all exactly the same. this is why i went to law school. grow up and get a real job.

    a proud union buster

  26. p.s.
    i was a proud scab during the last IATSE strike around 2015 and i made some good money on the side when i wasn’t at my day job. some of your buddies tried to block my truck when i showed up to set but those cowards quickly got out of the way as i drove straight at them hahaha

  27. Hi Actors/Readers,

    I would love your thoughts and advice. I’m a young actor just starting out, and I have just received my “must join” letter from SAG.

    I have been making a living wage by doing non-union work, and I don’t want that to end. It’s been amazing to get to work as an actor and be able to focus on my career instead of struggling to balance auditioning and working retail or babysitting or working at a restaurant. Most of my friends and peers who are actors balancing those side jobs barely have the freedom to audition, and I don’t want that to be me.

    The jobs I booked that are turning me SAG were both VO. I have never booked a SAG commercial or legit role. I am new to the industry (out of school a couple years) and I don’t have many connections to reps or casting. This is very scary for me, because I know that once I join SAG, I won’t be able to work on anything non-union which would give me more experience and a chance to form connections. I would never EVER dream of working “off card” or “off the record.”

    I am terrified to join SAG! It’s an honor to be asked to, and it’s something i’ve always dreamed of, but I see how many castings there are for union versus non-union work, and it’s very clear that I can’t make anything close to a living wage as an actor if I join (as of where I am now, as a new actor right out of school). I could get a side job, which I intend to do anyway, but what I want to do is make a career as an actor! I want to be a working actor living on the money i make as an actor. If I spend my days at a restaurant or store, I’ll miss out on auditions/acting work, and I’ll have less time to focus on my acting career, which is why I’m living in the city in the first place! I’d like to spend as few hours as possible at my side job so that I can focus on what is most important to me: my acting career.

    I have been advised to join fi-core by an agent. I know people say that she just wants me to make her more money, but I’ve been researching it, and it seems like a very viable option for me right now. Do union agents refuse to rep actors who are fi-core? Does anyone have personal experience with that? I also wonder if they even need to know my union status. I’m non-union now, and I have just started freelancing with the VO dept. at an all union agency, and there’s been no issue there.

    As far as I can tell, as a fi-core actor, I can still get residuals, work union and non union jobs, have a pension/insurance, and i’ll still pay my dues to SAG fair and square. I want to be clear about this: my goal is to eventually join SAG as a full member, once I am older and more experienced and I feel confident in my career. I am not excited about the idea of being fi-core and I wish I didn’t feel like it was my only option in order to continue to have a career as a consistently working/auditioning actor.

    I also have another question: would I still be able to join equity after a year of being fi-core? That’s a big goal of mine, because as a currently EMC actor I can barely get seen for anything union!

    I’d love your thoughts, older and wiser actors!

    Thank you all so much.

  28. SAG-AFTRA turned their back on me regarding a political ad, where they changed the language of a waiver mid-dispute in order to not pay be the full amount I was owed for shooting a political ad that was used as a one year internet buyout.

    Jane Love ignored my calls and no one else was of service to me…eventually when they saw that I was powerless and SAG was going to do what SAG was going to do.

    I will never forgive SAG-AFTRA for this because they will never apologize. They don’t even know who I am.

    The reality is, you can hope hope hope hope hope for union work and though it may come rarely, lately I have found SAG to be deplorable. The more I read about them too. Talk about corporate greed…well I’m sorry to inform you that SAG-AFTRA is also a corporation with salaries and high-rankings positions at stake. Human behavior doesn’t just magically change because it’s a “union” and not a “company”.

    If they ever decide to come after me for non-union work I have every email and screenshot of their own writing saved to fire back at them for the way they underpaid me for a signatory that wasn’t even a signatory, but a third party signatory.

    Absolutely disgusted with them.

  29. As a Fi-Core member I feel I need to step in as there is a lot of misconceptions about why someone like myself chooses to go Fi-Core. I am in an area where there are very limited Union acting gigs and I just want to WORK. This is not out of greed, but out of necessity. Also, with the lack of union wok, I do not make enough to get health insurance from the Union, so I am on my own. If I was in an area, like LA that has an abundant supply of Union work than yes. No brainer. I will become SAG. Also, as a FI-Core member, I still had to pay a hefty join fee and I keep my fees up to date. Thanks for reading.

  30. Two factual errors: SAG was founded in 1933, not 1937. Sitting on a national committee reviewing Fi-Core non-members seeking reinstatement, I can tell you from personal experience, we always grant return.

  31. I was a member of SAG / AFTRA for 30 some odd years. In that time I got numerous Co-star and featured parts but in 30 years as a member I added up the number of days actually employed – 35 days. I determined that even with co-star credits and a wealth of talent I could hardly consider myself a professional TV/ Film Actor. Rather tan violate global rule one, I chose fi-core because I love to act. This seemed to me the perfect place for a semi-professional. I wasn’t taking union jobs from anyone. Members couldn’t do those non-union jobs anyway or they would be violating that global rule one. I don’t know what the solution is but to keep honing my own talent and try to use these talents to improve the audience experience and positively impact people’s lives with my work. Maybe if I bring enough value to the lives of others I will – through my agent – negotiate a fair compensation – with or without the union. I hope union members find enough work to make it worth their while to stay in the guild. In the meantime the statistics are staggering and look at the award shows. Same people in their tuxedos every year. Maybe 3% of this club is working steadily at any given time and it always seems to be the same 3%. So I will continue to pay the dues to the guild and I will continue to be honest about my work and legally / ethically unbound by global rule one.

  32. 100,000 for a commercial? Give me 5k and I’ll do it. Just a thought, maybe acting shouldn’t be a person’s only source of income? Unions are good to have until they drive up cost to high. A fair salary should be the goal not a ridiculous salary.

  33. my husband & i are both UNION actors. we both lost our health insurance status this year & with raising a kid it’s tough. we moved out of beloved NYC to save money, my husband is picking up carpentry jobs, extra side jobs. i used to make an incredible income i now barely made 3K this past year (2018) … you read that right. working UNION actor and i barely made 3K. …my SAG bill has gone into dangerous territory where if i don’t pay by April i’ll be terminated for 18 months of non-payment. and guess what? we are not giving up. i’m paying off the bill because we are standing w/ our brothers & sisters and SAG/AFTRA. doesn’t mean i’m not angry & frustrated. doesn’t mean i’m not incredibly let down by CD’s and confused by the vagueness of my agent. but i’m still here. we have to stay together. the non UNION bottom will drop out when they realize they is no protection and they want more wages. hence a UNION.

  34. First off this article has it wrong. A FPNM still receives residuals on SAG projects. A FPNM is still protected on a SAG project when cast. A FPNM is literally the SAME THING AS SAG-e!!!! You can work both union and non union. Protected on the union, unprotected on the non-union projects!! It’s literally the equivalent of being “golden” when you’re SAG-e. This being said as a SAG-AFTRA member but have researched Fi-Core a ton.

    SAG-AFTRA could easily dig around to find tons of companies that are hiring union members on non-union projects! And fine or sue THEM, forcing them to taft-hartly those non members and back-pay hose that are Union. I know for a fact Jim Beam ran a non-union Superbowl ad and there were more than a handful of union actors taking a $1k buy-out because, sure, money, but it’s JIM FUCKING BEAM!! It’s a HUGE commercial that that one needs and can use to catapult when you have no resume. Beam spent $10M for a 1 min ad and can’t afford Union actors?? Well Beam, you hired some without your knowledge…PAY UP!! Instead SAG would rather fine YOU for working non-union. I’m sorry, but maybe that credit got you a meeting with a new Mgr or agent. Theatrical world couldn’t give two shits if you’re Fi-Core or not. It’s only the commercial world that actually looks at that part of your resume. And again, if you’re Fi-Core but book that Guest Star on a network show…you’re still protected under SAG, still receive Base day-rate, and still see a residual.

    Under Fi-Core you can’t vote and no longer get screeners. Can’t be nominated for a SAG award or attend SAG events officially. But you’re otherwise essentially SAG-e again in regards to pay and representation.

  35. have contracts that pay a living wage
    Eli Lilly industrial for $135 plus wardrobe bump! Lucked into short day. But $135?! 4 AM wake up due to travel.

  36. A SAG/AFTRA union member for over 40 years. Retired on pensions provided by both ( and SS). All residuals tracked and collected by said Unions. First Union job: $ 125. per day. Now Daily rate over $800.00 + 10%. Covered by Union Health Insurance as primary. Having surgery August and going to cost me less than $800.00 bucks after Union payout. Union Credit Union gave all 3 daughters College loans. Still auditioning and occasionally working shows and films. Yeah…I’m disappointed and pissed at my Unions?? No effing way folks. Thanks …Union strong.


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