Financial Core was mandated by the Supreme Court in order to allow union members work non-union jobs. This means something different for actors than for other jobs because SAG-AFTRA is different from regular unions; it does not get you employment. It is instead competition based, where there is an audition and one actor wins out. But they still protect your rights, like a union does.
So, this is why Fi-Core makes absolutely no financial sense:
Most non-union work is based on an in perpetuity contract, paying on a buyout or a flat rate. Meaning: no residuals. You could be in a commercial that runs 100 times a day in every major city for 10 years, but if you accepted a $500 buyout, that’s all the money you’ll ever see.
You will most likely be signing a 10-99 contract. Meaning, that it will be your responsibility to pay your taxes at the end of the year. On a W2 contract, 6.2% is withheld from your paycheck for pension and health, and the other 6.2% is paid by the producers. So, on a 10-99, you would have to be paying 6.2% for pension and health and 6.2% for social security straight out of pocket during tax time, since the producers are not paying it.
Your pay is not protected. You are at the mercy of the producers as to what they want to pay you and when.
You still have to pay union dues and are expected to give SAG-AFTRA a percentage of your earnings from union work. So, although you are resigned from the union, you are still expected to pay union dues and percentages from your paychecks.
If you fail to pay these fees and try to get back into the union later, you will have to pay the fees that you accumulated. It will also count against you during the process of trying to rejoin the union.
Let me do the math for you.
Let’s assume you book one SAG-AFTRA commercial under the Commercial Class A contract. You film for two days; that is a guaranteed $671.79 a day, earning you $1,343.58 in session fees. The commercial runs for one 13 week cycle, and, with residuals, you end up grossing an estimated $20,000 or more.
Now, let’s say you book one non-union commercial job, and you sign an in perpetuity contract for a $5,000 buyout (which is a generous estimate for a non-union job.) It would take 4 non-union commercials at that rate for you to equal what you made from one SAG-AFTRA commercial.
For the union job, factor in a percentage for your agent (10%) and/or manager (10%-15%), about 30% for state and federal taxes combined, and 1.575% for SAG-AFTRA that is applied towards your qualifications for health insurance and future pension. You take home at least $8,800, depending how much they run the commercial. If the ad agency decides to run it for more cycles, you’d be getting even more in residuals; if they want to run your commercial past the maximum period of use, they must renegotiate your contract, with the potential for a higher rate.
For the non-union commercial, you have to pay the same percentages to your representatives (non-union reps usually take a higher percentage, more like 15-20%) and in taxes (which you will be your responsibility to pay, as you will have been hired on a 10-99 contract.) The in perpetuity contract you signed does not allow for residuals, and there is no maximum period of use or potential for renegotiations. In this case, you would take home $2,250. You’re stuck with what and when they decide to pay you.
This brings up a new point: SAG-AFTRA contracts requires production companies to process and send your paycheck within twelve days; if it’s going to your agency, they are required to cut you a check within 7 days after they receive it. For non-union contracts, there is no time period within which production is required send a check, which basically means that you have no guarantee of pay whatsoever.
There are further compensations through SAG-AFTRA. For the 9th and 10th hours of work, you get paid time and a half for overtime, and double time for each additional hour. Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays are paid double time. There is compensation for travel, wardrobe, wet, snow, smoke, or dust. Pay bumps are negotiated for nudity and stunt work. None of this is required in non-union contracts.
I know dozens of actors who have gone Fi-Core and then realized that, even though they are working more, they are more broke than they were before they left the union. They should have just gritted their teeth and gotten a day job when they had their SAG-AFTRA card, but instead went Fi-Core and lost money; now, they are not under union protection and they ended up with a day job anyway. These are veteran actors with IMDb credits a mile long!
SAG-AFTRA paints a bleak picture of going Fi-Core, and they have every reason to: they try to make actors understand the monumental gravity of the decision they’re making. I may not ever know what it’s like to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars on one commercial, like what used to be the norm, but I do know what it’s like to work in a safe environment with union protections, including a guaranteed paycheck. The purpose and goal of our union is to help us. But how can we expect them to keep making steps forward if their members keep abandoning them? Our union is only as strong as its members, so let’s be strong in our union!
My name is Andrea and I live in Los Angeles, California. By day, I am in actor and by night I am working towards a degree in nutritional science.