Ok, fellow millennial actors, it’s time to step it up. Our union, SAG-AFTRA, is in crisis, and it’s up to us to fix it.
Currently, producers and other entertainment professionals are encouraging SAG-AFTRA actors to either leave their union and go Fi-Core or work off the card. Many millennial union actors are falling for this self-destructive path because they are uneducated about their union.
Why are production companies doing this?
Because it’s cheaper for them to produce non-union content.
Because they can pay YOU significantly less money for doing a non-union job and put more money in their own pockets.
A lot of work, namely commercials, have gone non-union. So, because more work is non-union, actors are going Fi-Core or working off the card to chase the non-union work, and, as a result, more work goes non-union, and the vicious cycle continues to grow.
So, how does this affect you?
Do you remember the days when it was commonplace to earn $100,000 from doing one commercial? Neither do I. But, your older union members do. They didn’t even have day jobs. They didn’t have to beg their employers to let them off to go to an audition. Now, the average earnings for one commercial is 10k-20k. The non-union work is driving our wages down, and we millennials may never know what it’s like to earn a living wage for doing our work. That’s why we are all struggling. It’s why veteran actors with IMDb credits a mile long are now working for Uber and Postmates. I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t want that to be my retirement plan.
Also, isn’t it important to you to have health insurance and a pension? With the union jobs decreasing, opportunities to earn insurance and contributions towards a possible pension are low, if not impossible. If you work a non-union job, there is no possibility for insurance or pension at all.
When you go Fi-Core or work off the card, this is what you are telling corporations: you are so desperate for work that you are okay with being paid insultingly low wages and being subjected to incredibly difficult, and sometimes even unsafe working conditions, for the empty promise of working more.
The promise of working more as a non-union actor is where the subject starts to get a little hairy. Yes, there is currently more non-union work out there, making it easier to book work as a non-union actor, but that is not necessarily a good thing.
Let’s say that you go Fi-Core and have a streak where you book a ton of non-union commercials. Then, you get an audition for a union Coca Cola commercial. It’s going to be a huge, multi-commercial campaign, where you would be the new face of Coca Cola and be paid more money than you’ve ever seen. You go in for the audition, and they love you. Before they book you for the job, they look you up on the internet, as is common practice.
They come across your commercials that you’ve recently shot.
There’s one for Pepsi. That’s a conflict of interest. Poof, your job is gone.
But, let’s just say, for the sake of argument, they loved you so much that they decided you’re still in the running.
They come across the next commercial. It’s not a conflict, but, since it’s non-union, the actors in it are not very good. You may have been fine, but the people around you brought your performance down. The ad agency is not sure that they want to hire someone who has appeared in low-quality work, because it can reflect poorly on them. They come across your next commercial, and the next, and the next – more low-quality, non-union spots.
And, you’ve lost the job. You will no longer be the face of Coca Cola.
Which brings me to my next point: your face.
In non-union work, you have absolutely no protected rights, including with your likeness in perpetuity. In perpetuity=forever, with no residual pay.
Anybody can take your face from any non-union job and use it however they want.
The scariest part of this? Some people get their faces transplanted onto porn websites. But, if your face was taken from a non-union job, you have no legal standing if you want them to take it down.
This is scary. It’s disgusting. It’s horrible. It’s humiliating. But, if you did not sign a union contract, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
So, millennial actors, here’s my point: it’s time to do something. It’s time to get up and take an interest in what’s in your best interest. Get educated. Be a participant in your own well-being. There’s a reason why it’s so difficult to get your SAG-AFTRA card: the union is for professionals. Are you a professional?
YOU can fix this. WE are the contemporaries. WE are the ones who are creating the future for ourselves and for the next generation. When I look around, the only people that I see taking part in this fight are the older generations because they know what they’re losing and what we’ll never have. We need to take the wheel.
Here are some things you can do:
- Educate yourself. Here is the SAG-AFTRA website. It has everything you need to know about the union. Here is the Union Working website. It is a plethora of information, including listing the Union Working meetings so that you can get involved.
- Report non-union commercials (and, if you’re bold, SAG-AFTRA members working off the card), which can be done anonymously by emailing email@example.com. Commercials and other projects are flipped every day, and you can help in the effort.
- Vote. You are a SAG-AFTRA member, so don’t just throw away the postcards you get in the mail or delete the SAG-AFTRA emails about upcoming elections. Read through them and vote on the contracts. There’s a huge commercial contract negotiation coming up. Get informed about it! It directly affects your future, either positively or negatively depending on your choice to get involved!
- Attend SAG-AFTRA events, and join the SAG foundation. They’re free, they’re fun, with great networking opportunities. Get your career moving!
Remember, with the SAG-AFTRA membership, you are entitled to:
- Protected pay, including residuals.
- Safe working conditions. So you will always be safe on set, including protection from sexual harassment and physical harm.
- Healthcare benefits. This includes health insurance for you and your family, and a pension.
- Fun perks. This includes screeners, workshops, discounts, voting privileges, and more.
Join me in this battle. If we come together, we can make a difference.
My name is Andrea and I live in Los Angeles, California. By day, I am an actor and by night I am working towards a degree in nutritional science.