By Hollywood Connect
Most professional actors want to know how they can join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the nation’s largest labor union for working actors and performers. SAG’s stated mission is to represent actors by helping them negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits, and working conditions for its performers; collect compensation for exploitation of recorded performances by its members; and provide protection against unauthorized use of those performances; and preserve and expand work opportunities for its members.
SAG is an exclusive union, and it provides its members with a level of credibility as actors, so most professional actors are looking to join. There are some criteria that an you have to meet before you join, so let’s take a look at the three different ways you can join SAG:
1. Principal Performer: If you work in a principal or speaking role for a minimum of one day on a project for a producer who has an agreement with SAG, and you are paid at the appropriate SAG rate, you then are considered “SAG Eligible” – that is, eligible to join the guild. For the next 30 days after the first day of performing in the SAG project, the SAG Eligible actor may then work in any other SAG or non-SAG productions. During that time, you are classified as “Taft-Hartley,” which basically is a standard way that productions use to escort you straight into SAG. After those 30 Taft-Hartley days are up, you go into a “must join” status, which means that you may not work on any other SAG productions until you have joined SAG by paying the initiation fee and membership dues and by agreeing to follow SAG’s bylaws and rules.
2. Background Performer: Another way you can get into SAG is by the “three voucher rule,” which basically means that you can collect SAG vouchers for three separate days of work as an extra or background performer on a project for a producer who has an agreement with SAG. SAG producers require a minimum number of SAG members be employed as background performers before a producer is permitted to hire a non-SAG background performer. Sometimes those minimums are difficult for the production company to meet, so the producer is then allowed to fill an empty SAG spot with a non-SAG performer. If that is you, the producer must give you a SAG voucher for the day – entitling you to the same benefits and pay that the SAG performers receive. If you are going for this route, keep in mind that you have to be able to confirm such employment with payroll documentation, and not just the vouchers. After you have gotten the three vouchers, you may (but don’t have to) join SAG by paying the initiation fee and membership dues and by agreeing to follow SAG’s bylaws and rules.
3. Affiliated Union: A final way you can become eligible to join SAG is to be a member in good standing of any union affiliated with the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (AAAA), the federation of trade unions for performers in the United States, for at least one year. Under this route of joining SAG, you must have worked and been paid as a principal performer at least once in an area of the affiliated union’s jurisdiction. Affiliated unions include ACTRA, AEA, AFTRA, AGMA, and AGVA. Make sure you save the contract from the performance that was subject to the affiliated unions, because you will need that to present to SAG as proof of employment. Once you have done all this and the year has gone by, you may (but don’t have to) join SAG by paying the initiation fee and membership dues and by agreeing to follow SAG’s bylaws and rules.
Now, remember, SAG’s membership dues and one-time initiation fee can be quite a bit of money, so be prepared for that. At the time of this article, the total amount is $2,335, but that is subject to change.
Once you are a member of SAG, you are entitled to a number of benefits and privileges, not the least of which are standardized pay and work conditions, arbitration for any disputes that may arise, and if the minimum annual income threshold is reached, the opportunity to join the Producers Pension and Health Plans.
For more information on the Screen Actors Guild and how to join it, check out its website at www.sag.org.