I just received an email from Julia, who asks:
"I'm curious if you have any information on Financial Core, Fi-Core, SAG-Core or whatever the heck it is that they call it these days. I've been getting a lot of non-union work, especially dance work. Since union rates for dancers are so high, no production seems to want to pay it. But at the same time, I need to catapult my career to the new level and not do non-union films that pay me $50 for a 14 hour day. So I keep hearing about Financial Core. More and more performers are opting to be Fi-Core vs SAG so that they can do both SAG and Non-SAG projects. Do you know anything about this mumbo-jumbo? There seems to be certain stigmas associated with Fi-Core but it seems like such a smart business move to be able to do both SAG and Non-SAG projects...”
Thanks for your email- this is an excellent question, Julia! Here is information about Financial Core, as I understand it.
First off, many actors believe that Fi-Core was created by the unions to give actors the option to take non-union work when there is not enough union work to be had (or when non union work is paying more than the union work available.) This is not why Fi-Core was established, so let's start with its origin.
The Supreme Court made a ruling that states no one should be forced to pay dues to a union that uses the dues for political purposes (this invades constitutional rights of the worker.) So the option of Financial Core, or Fi-core, was put in place. In this case, an actor will pay only partial dues to the union, avoiding paying the dues that would go towards political action. More info on this website.
Actors who claim fi-core would be considered a "non-dues-paying member" which means they can work union jobs but they do not enjoy the same rights, benefits and privileges of the full paying union members. And because they are not a full union member, they would be eligible to audition for non-union projects. The fact that you can claim fi-core is very troubling to the unions- it is a tense and rarely talked about subject over at SAG (there is a good article about this on Backstage.com )
I have also heard of current union actors officially withdrawing from the union for financial reasons but continuing to pay partial dues, and they have considered this "going Fi-Core." But there is no documentation that I could find online that would support this as a sanctioned procedure by the unions. As far as the unions are considered, you are either a full member or you are not a member at all, yet the Fi-Core provision provides this murky in-between that no one really wants to talk about.
I know many actors who feel their union fails them because they don’t provide access to enough paying jobs. They feel that it is the union’s responsibility to organize the non-union productions, and until they do the actor deserves to take advantage of the Fi-Core option.
As a member of all three unions who also struggles to find paying work, I understand this position. In the end, it's a personal choice that you will have to make for yourself. One thing to consider when making this decision: after working on many union sets and then visiting several non-union sets, the differences in the way actors were treated were glaringly obvious. Not to say all non-union producers treat actors badly (many treat actors very well) but as a Fi-Core union member you lose the strength of 120,000 members to back you up on basic minimums like pay, rest periods, meals, etc.
Here’s my professional option: You should choose one or the other // union or non-union // and avoid the in-between. This Fi-Core option undermines what the union is trying to do, and I think it can be detrimental to actors as a whole. The whole point of the union is to secure basic minimums in salary, work conditions, and benefits for all actor members, and if some of its members opt to be Fi-Core, then the entire union loses power in negotiating with producers. You also lose bargaining power with your non-union producer when they know that you are a union actor willing to overstep the union to work with them.
To address you current situation (needing to be paid more for your work), here is an option: Negotiate for higher pay for your non-union gigs. Take out the middle man (the union) and set your own pay rate. To learn the best way to negotiate with a non-union producer, it is a good idea to talk to your agent or manager, or hire a career coach. Agents will be the ones to negotiate the actual contracts for you, and the manager and/or career coach can guide you towards the right kinds of projects that can help lead you higher on the ladder towards your ideal career.
(Note: Agents who are signatories of SAG are generally forbidden from negotiating contracts for non-union projects, so you'll have to use a non-signatory agent.)
(Second Note: There is no such thing as Fi-Core with Actors' Equity, reportedly because they do not use member dues for political purposes...)
The bottom line... In life, getting around a rule usually serves people in the short term, but can hurt you in the long term. If your end goal is to work only union projects, it may not be worth the hassle and the headache to try this middle road. You mention that it may be a good business move to be Fi-Core - I think it can be an equally good business move to build your skills so that you can compete at the union level for the top jobs. You can also use your agent, manager and career coach to guide your overall career, making sure that you have the training and experience to compete at every level you attempt. If you don't have an agent/manager, a career coach can be an incredible tool to help you learn to do these things for yourself.
So, get out there and network, build relationships, take classes, hone your skills, create buzz about yourself, and express yourself as the valuable and unique commodity that you are!
UPDATE: There was recently a very interesting discussion on one of the message boards about Fi-Core- take a look at it here.
Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!
Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.