Unions- More Q&A

by | Career Advice, General

I received the following email  recently that I thought would be good to share as it contains some excellent questions about the actors union’s rules. I asked permission to reprint the question and provide my responses here.

“I have been a SAG actor for 2 years.. and I lived very close to a large cities (not NY or LA) when i joined. Since then, I had a child and moved much further away from the cities, and now find my self in a landscape entirely devoid of SAG opportunities. I also lack the time (with a child) to actively pursue work and “pound the pavement” as I used to.

I want to be able to do no-budget stuff out here (and there is a LOT), and if one of them hits, sure, I’d join the Union again in a second..

Let me be clear.. I’ve tried a lot.. no one is willing to do the Signatory thing for Ultra-Low (most productions are 10K or less..) .. and really, I want to scale back to “occasional very semi-pro” or even unpaid work until my kid hits Kindergarten.

I’ve heard “Fi-Core” bandied about.. and I don’t want to do that.. I feel like its playing both sides of the fence. I don’t want to have my cake and eat it too, I just want to give up cake for a few years.

I have heard about “Honorable Withdrawal” and I wanted to know if that is a way I can go back to doing non-professional work for a few years.. (and not SAG work.. I don’t want to do both or weaken the Union)

Sorry to bother you with this, but your article was very interesting to me, and I wanted to do what was right.  – Anonymous”

And my reply:
Honorable withdrawal means you are retaining your union membership, but requesting a suspension of dues paying because you are not going to be performing work under union jurisdiction. In my case, while I was on  union staff, I couldn’t also be a performer because of conflict of interest. Some people request “honorable” to take time off,  extended travel, school, career change or disinterest in performing,  health issues, etc. 

To take honorable also means you remain a union member, and you may not work non-union jobs covered by  SAG jurisdiction. If you do, you may be subject to disciplinary action, fined, or cited for conduct unbecoming to the union.
Financial Core status means you are a member who has made the choice to resign your membership and paying reduced union dues. You are a dues-paying non-member. You may not vote in union elections, run for office, or participate in union activities. However you may work as a union or non-union performer without sanction. The union is taking a tough position on Fi-Core non-members making it difficult to re-join, if they suddenly see the “error of their ways”. Tough fines, and higher joining fees. The rules are evolving because the National Board has recently altered its position. Now you may never get to re-join once you resign. SAG speaks to the issue.  Also….
See Variety article  Hollywood Reporter article

In your case. This is a tough one. I am sure you made a sizeable investment in your career when you joined SAG. Considering what you have told me here and where you’re at in your life,  it may make sense to scale back your acting career, take honorable withdrawal and consider your options while you enjoy raising your child, which is the most important job of all.

I bumped into the following links, some not so fair and balanced as this one, but  these below are informative nonetheless which may be helpful while researching this topic:
Coal Mine Canary Films
Actors AccessShowfax


  1. Bobbin (Part 1 of 2):

    You provided an experienced summary here on a topic that I find fascinating. I appreciate the post.

    While (as always with a topic as big as union/non-union) we could discuss opinions for hours, I’d just want to discuss the topic of what I will call censure by the union for going fi-core and how that impacts the voice industry.

    Quoting: “The union is taking a tough position on Fi-Core non-members making it difficult to re-join, if they suddenly see the “error of their ways”. Tough fines, and higher joining fees. The rules are evolving because the National Board has recently altered its position. Now you may never get to re-join once you resign.”

    As I read it (and I could be misinterpreting this) the union has been in some instances threatening, intimating or simply not letting a fi-core member rejoin at full status because of their legally available fi-core status.

    I get that the union is focused (in my opinion, desperate) to keep members from doing non-union work as such defections make the union vulnerable. Such defections certainly weaken the union and if I were a member, I wouldn’t be happy about that prospect either.

    Further, the union’s strength has historically allowed an equitable wage to be paid for what may have been previously under-valued work allowing a performer proper compensation that might have otherwise been insufficient.

    Also full union members no doubt resent watching their fellow members who are fi-core be able to straddle both sides of the voice over fence while the union member is restricted to union only work. It’s akin I guess to being forced to only eat at the salad bar while your spouse enjoys prime rib and a baked potato.

    But the voice over marketplace (even in major markets) had changed with the advent of technology…for both better and worse. Technology allows more people to participate in the voice over industry, in many cases reducing the quality of work performed as well as the rates paid. A strong union could certainly help overcome the subsequent and troubling quality and compensation issues.

    But the union’s reaction as described above makes me think the union is actually losing more traction by its reaction than it could possibly gain.

    — MORE —

  2. Bobbin (Part 2 of 2):

    My feeling continues to be the strength and value of unions to both its members, the client community and to prospective members is waning. With an eroding membership base when compared to historic union membership numbers or the number of non-union performers (take your pick); with what seems to be a growing majority of clients availing themselves of non-union talent (many, like myself who do charge a fair price and perform quality, professional voice work); and a posted union compensation system that requires a tri-lingual translator with a CPA (or maybe its just me), unions for voice acting are being seen as a less important resource (and certainly less valued) than they have been previously by prospective union members (and, in my opinion, by a growing number of union members…again, just my gut on that.)

    The law allows fi-core membership, so let it be. Intimidation of any kind by unions (this less menacing modern tactic as described or the more aggressive, sometimes physical tactics of days gone by) has always eroded its reputation and credibility. Nobody wins.

    While I find their current tactics, as described, professionally offensive I think its public posture is defensive and faulty. I think they’d be better served by going on offense.

    If the union’s core purpose and values truly have merit to their primary audiences, then for recruiting new members the union needs to sell that story better. They are not currently making their value proposition to their current and potential customers valuable enough. Forcing people to buy a prospect or service will not succeed. One has to make the client really want (of their own free will, not under fear of retribution) to be a part of the union.

    For me, the union’s value proposition has never been strong enough to secure my business. Further, my observation is (both within and outside the union membership) that I am a part of a growing majority who feel the same way.

    And knowing how many people toiled with the best of intentions to establish the unions in the first place and how often it well served it members, for my part, the above observation is kind of a sad one.

    Thanks for listening.

    Best always,
    – Peter

  3. Peter,
    Thank you for your pointed commentary here. The union is only as strong as its members, they say. I think it’s becoming more about the hired guns and the higher elected ranks of the country’s biggest local membership bases- NY & LA.  You have raised a number of valuable observations. And there’s another strangeness brewing. SAG and AFTRA are having more than a war of words these days. Its about turf, power and disassociation. Who will win?

    I don’t think it will be the members, imho.

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