Overview

The three main American acting labor unions, (S.A.G.) Screen Actors Guild, (Eqquity) Actors Equity Association, and (A.F.T.R.A.) American Federation of Television & Radio Artists are responsible for contract negotiations and are members of the AFLCIO organization of unions.

Screen Actors Guild

Established in March of 1933 from the former Masquers club by Berton Churchill, Alden Gay, Charles Miller, Grant Mitchell, Ralph Morgan and Kenneth Thomson. Ralph Morgan became its first president in June of that same year.

It was formed to combat the sometimes deplorable treatment of actors by studios and it was also a response to the "invitation only" policy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which at the time handled arbitrations regarding contract disputes.

In 1937 S.A.G. finally was recognized by studios and producers. It took much effort and sacrifice as is usually the case with any union formation. Most of the initial actors that created the organization never recovered their careers from the bans imposed upon them as punishment for defying the system


Actor's Equity Association

Established in 1913, this is the labor union for over 45,000 American theatrical artists and stage managers working in professional theatre.

Equity negotiates minimum wages and working conditions, administeres contracts, and enforces provisions of various agreements with theatrical employers across the country.

The current president is Patrick Quinn.


The Performers' Unions

SAG - Screen Actors Guild

Screen Actors Guild is the nation's largest labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists' rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents nearly 120,000 working actors in film, television, industrials, commercials, video games, music videos and other new media. The Guild exists to enhance actors' working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists' rights. Headquartered in Los Angeles, SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO. The Screen Actors Guild is associated with the Associated Actors and Artists of America (AAAA), which is the primary association of performer's unions in the United States. The AAAA is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. SAG claims exclusive jurisdiction over motion picture performances, and shares jurisdiction of radio, television, Internet, and other new media with its sister union AFTRA.

How To Join SAG

A performer becomes eligible for Screen Actors Guild membership under one of the following two conditions: proof of SAG employment or employment under an affiliated performers’ union.

1. Proof of Employment

a. Principal Performer Employment - Performers may join SAG upon proof of employment. Employment must be in a principal or speaking role in a SAG film, videotape, television program or commercial. Proof of such employment may be in the form of a signed contract, or original pay stubs. The document proving employment must provide the following information:
— applicant’s name
— applicant’s Social Security number
— name of the production or name of the commercial (product name)
— the salary paid (in dollar amount)
— the specific date(s) worked.

b. Background Actors may join SAG upon proof of employment as a SAG–covered background player at full SAG rates and conditions for a MINIMUM of three work days subsequent to March 25, 1990. Employment must be by a company signed to a SAG Agreement under which the Producer is required to cover background actors. Proof of employment must be in the form of original paystubs or a payroll printout faxed from the payroll house. Such documents must provide the same information (name, Social Security number, etc.) as listed above.

2. Employment Under an Affiliated Performers' Union

Performers may join SAG if the applicant is a paid-up member of an affiliated performers' union (ACTRA, AEA, AFTRA, AGMA or AGVA) for a period of one year and has worked and been paid for at least once as a principal performer in that union’s jurisdiction.

To join SAG, a performer must pay an initiation fee of $2,277, plus the first semi-annual basic dues payment of $58. Thus, the total fee to join is $2,335.

AFTRA - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) is a national labor union representing over 70,000 performers. This was my first union. The first union that a person joins becomes your "Parent Union". Unlike the other performers' unions, anyone can walk in off the street and join AFTRA. This union is newcomers' and inexperienced actors best bet to become eligible to join the other unions. You still must obtain a speaking or "principal" role within AFTRA's jurisdiction at some point in order to join SAG or the other unions, but at least you can "buy" the membership without prior experience. AFTRA has jurisdiction over Soaps, many Sitcoms, news/sports/weather broadcasts, radio, sound recordings, talk shows, variety shows, documentaries, game shows, and various multimedia broadcasts. Once you obtain a principal role (speaking, stunts, dancing or singing), then you are "eligible" to join the other unions. But only after you have been a paid-up member of AFTRA for one year.

New members must complete an application and pay a one-time initiation fee and dues for the current dues period. The initiation fee is $1,300 and, as of November 1, 2007, minimum dues are $63.90.


AEA - Actors' Equity Association
("AEA" or "Equity"), founded in 1913, is the labor union that represents more than 45,000 Theatre Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. Equity negotiates wages and working conditions and provides a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans, for its members. Actors' Equity is a member of the AFL-CIO, and is affiliated with FIA, an international organization of performing arts unions.

How To Join AEA

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

Membership is also available by virtue of prior membership in a performing arts sister union (ACTRA, SAG, AFTRA, AGMA or AGVA).

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

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

Equity Membership Candidate Program

This program permits actors and stage managers-in-training to credit theatrical work in an Equity theatre towards eventual membership in Equity. After securing a position at a participating theatre, you may register as a candidate. The $100 registration fee will be credited against any future Initiation Fee when you become eligible for membership. Eligibility under this program requires a total of 50 weeks of EMC work at participating theatres.

If you are joining Equity through the EMC Program, at least a $400 initial payment is due with your application.

All membership privileges, including the right to vote, attend meetings and Equity-only auditions, commence upon the initial payment of $400 towards the fee (currently $1100) within six months of the filing of your application.

AGMA - American Guild of Musical Artists, the labor union that represents opera and concert singers, production personnel and dancers at principal opera, concert and dance companies throughout the United States.

You may join the AGMA by virtue of employment under an AGMA contract. Membership is also available by virtue of prior membership in a performing arts sister union (ACTRA, AEA, AFTRA, SAG or AGVA).

AGMA has a one-time-only Initiation Fee of $500. This tax-deductible fee may be paid by credit card or by check. The total fee must be paid by the time your income from AGMA engagements reaches $2000, or three years from the date of your first AGMA contract – whichever comes first. Basic dues are $78 a year, paid in December for the next calendar year. Working dues are 2% of the member’s earnings up to a maximum of $2000 a year, and can be deducted automatically by the companies for which you work if you sign a check-off authorization. If you don’t authorize a check-off, it is your responsibility to make payments directly to AGMA.


ACTRA - Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists is a national organization of more than 21,000 professional performers working in the English-language recorded media in Canada. ACTRA represents artists working in feature films, TV, radio, digital media, corporate videos and commercials as dramatic actors, comedians, dancers, background performers, voice over specialists, singers, puppeteers, stunt performers - and more.

Membership in ACTRA is open to any performer who has enrolled in the Apprentice Membership Program and has attained six professional engagements under ACTRA jurisdiction, or has, in recognition of the barriers confronting the disabled and members of visible minorities, three professional engagements under ACTRA jurisdiction, or has membership in a sister organization (SAG, AEA, AFTRA, AGMA or AGVA).

In exceptional circumstances, persons who qualify according to the guidelines and interpreted by the ACTRA Branch/Local Union may be admitted upon presenting proof to the ACTRA Branch/Local Union.

If you hold at least one work permit (under ACTRA contract), you are eligible to become an Apprentice Member. This includes work permits for principal and acting roles as well as stunt but excludes work permits issued for background performing. There is a $75.00 initiation fee plus an annual fee of $75.00 that you would pay upon becoming an Apprentice Member.

AGVA - American Guild of Variety Artists is an entertainment union representing performers in variety entertainment, including circuses, Las Vegas showrooms and cabarets, comedy showcases, dance revues, magic shows, theme park shows, arena and auditorium extravaganzas, puppeteers, jugglers, etc.

You may join the AGMA by virtue of employment under an AGVA contract. Membership is also available by virtue of prior membership in a performing arts sister union (ACTRA, AEA, AFTRA, SAG or AGMA).

For more information, contact AGVA at 212-675-1003. Mailing address: American Guild of Variety Artists, 184 Fifth Ave., 6th floor, New York, NY 10010. (The union currently does not have a website.)

More information regarding the performing unions can be found at the following website: http://acting411.blogspot.com