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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rules Governing Union Actors

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One my my readers just posted this question in the comments section of another post. I thought it would worth discussing in a whole new post. Nicholas asks:

“I was just wondering where in the rules does it say you can’t do non-union in any other union? Also how are they able to enforce it? Thank you in advance!”

Great question, Nicholas. The solidarity agreement between unions, which dictates that union membership should not work for any non-union producer in any jurisdiction, is stated in each unions by-laws. Admittedly, they are very hard to find- no wonder it is hard for actors to know what their obligations are!

In a separate blog, I answered an actor's question about SAG actors doing non-union theater. You can see my thoughts on the subject here:

In the comments section of that blog, I listed my sources of information - I went to SAG's Constitution and By-Laws and here is what it said about SAG members working on non-union projects:

Article 9

"It shall be conduct unbecoming a member of the Guild to accept employment in the jurisdiction of any other branch of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America for an employer whose employees are represented by the other branch, unless the member seeking such employment first inquires of the other branch to ascertain whether the employer is a signatory to a collective bargaining agreement with the other branch. It shall be conduct unbecoming a member if the member accepts employment with an employer in the jurisdiction of another branch after having been advised by the other branch that:

(A.) The employer has refused to bargain in good faith a collective bargaining agreement with the other branch and the other branch has declared the employer unfair or has otherwise directed its members not to work for the employer; or

(B.) If the employees of the employer are engaged in a primary strike ratified or approved by the other branch.What this means is that if Equity or AFTRA (or any of the other unions) are working to organize producers or specific projects, SAG members may not work for them. And because it is difficult to know, at any time, which groups are attempting to be organized, it is widely accepted that once you join a union, you should not do non-union work. It does appear, though, that you can investigate the theater company by calling Equity, who can tell you if the producer is being organized."

That legal speak can be hard to understand, but in the first section, it clearly states that all union members who are employed must make sure that the producer has a agreement with the appropriate union under the 4 A's agreement. (The 4 A's is a collective of performing arts unions, including SAG. AFTRA, ARA, AGMA, AGVA, and a few others...)

And - here is information from the AFTRA website, written in a press release on the topic of the solidarity agreement:

"Specifically, Article XXXI of AFTRA’s constitution requires that AFTRA members honor “do not work” orders applied by sister unions in their jurisdictions. For example, AFTRA is working closely with Actors’ Equity on a joint outreach and education program to educate professional performers that members of one union cannot accept non-union work in the jurisdiction of a sister union (for example, non-union tours in AEA’s jurisdiction or non-union commercials in AFTRA’s jurisdiction.)"

To read the whole article, go to

As far as enforcing these rules- the way that most people get caught is when someone reports the “offending” member to the union. I wouldn’t say this is done very often, but there is certainly a risk whenever you choose to break one of the union’s rules. Also, if you are working illegally on a non-union project and the union is actively organizing that production (meaning, the union is trying to get the production under a union contract), there is a good chance that you will be found out. The best way to avoid this, of course, if so make sure that every producer that hires you is covered under the appropriate union contract, or call to get approval/clearance by your union to work.

I hope this has answered your questions. If you need anything else, I am happy to help- and you can also call SAG, AEA or AFTRA and ask to speak to the Membership Department (for member related questions) or the Contracts Department (for contract related issues.)

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


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