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Should I join AFTRA or SAG Before the Merger?

SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) member’s are going to vote very soon to merge into one large union to be known as SAG-AFTRA. I have been receiving a ton of emails from various alumni and students with questions. The most common one comes from NON-Union actors who are wondering if they should join now before the vote.

The first question I would ask yourself is what market do you live in. If you are in one of the major markets like NYC or LA and your very serious about acting on film and TV then it is a no brainier. Join. If you are planning on moving to one of these markets you will eventually have to join, eventually your gonna have to join if you want to move up in the ranks.

The major factor is the cost. Every year it gets more and more expensive. If your shooting for the moon then I advise to do it now because after the merger SAG rules apply and it will not only be as tough to get into the new union as it is to get into sag, but the cost will be more as well. The current cost for AFTRA (open door policy, you just walk in and pay and your union) is $1,600. Currently SAG costs $2,277 ( not open door: you must either get 3 waivers or book a SAG role) that must be paid all at once and not in installments. The new union will cost $3,000 and have initial membership run on SAG rules. That means you can only get into the union 1) Hired for a SAG (or, post-merger, SAG-AFTRA) principal role. 2) Three days as a background performer in a SAG (or, post-merger, SAG-AFTRA) background role. 3) Sister union membership (this means you would need to get into ACTORS EQUITY) then apply for membership in SAG-AFTRA 4) Employees of targeted employers (this deals more with sports casters, radio DJ’s, News etc).

Remember for the previous situation, if you KNOW your going to do this for the rest of your life and move or are living in the major markets my advice is JOIN. So what if you live in Texas or Arizona? A state that does get union work every once in a while but not as much as the 2 major cities? OR lets say Chicago? This is where it gets tricky. Many productions go to states that are right to work states to avoid the costs of union shoots. You may be shooting yourself in the foot and cut off some work in your state. I personally am a Union member of all three SAG, AFTRA, AEA and believe in the unions and what they are trying to do. But I also know that all markets are not the same. IF you are planning on doing this professionally, to get the work that pays much more in film and tv you will need to go union eventually. So you may want to wait.

However, the AFTRA grandfathering in of members will stop on March 30th. That is the deadline for people to join AFTRA with open door policy and if the unions join then you will become SAG-AFTRA. If you wait for after that date then SAG rules apply. So you can walk up to the counter and pay and become a union member up till then.

On the personal side, I was AEA and AFTRA in Arizona for almost 8 years and it did not effect me as much. However I do know of other actors that it was much more difficult for them to deal with being union in a right to work state.

Alberto Bonilla teaches the Film and TV class at the Maggie Flanigan Studio. This class is for actors who are serious about working in film and television. For more information about the class visit this page on the studio website: Film and TV Class in NYC

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