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SAG/AFTRA vs. Non-Union, explained

IndustryOpinion

Nayeli Pena

Nayeli Pena

·5 min read

A common question working actors ask is "when is it time to join SAG/AFTRA?". While there's not one right answer, we aggregated our research to help you jump to make that decision.

  • **1. SAG/AFTRA is a professional stamp.** SAG/AFTRA calls themselves the most distinguished entertainment and media union in the world. They represent approximately 160,000 actors, dancers, DJs, program hosts, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists among other professionals.

    Joining the union allows members to benefit from union negotiated benefits and salary.

        **2. There's a cost associated with it.**
        
    

    Joining SAG/AFTRA comes with a joining fee of $3,000 every 3 years. Members must also pay an annual base fee of $201.96 and an additional 1.575 percent of covered earnings up to $500,000. Fees may be lower if you decide to work in a branch area other than Hollywood.

    By joining SAF/AFTRA you narrow the amount of work available to you but it promises better benefits and pay(including residuals). The quality of work you can do with SAG/AFTRA is also much higher than work you might be able to find outside the union.

    SAG/AFTRA is there for you as a performer. They constantly negotiate for better contracts, establish a pension, and in some cases there is a possibility of health insurance.

            **3. There are random perks.**
        
    

    They also offer some free development resources to members. This includes conversation screenings, Q&A with filmmakers, actors, casting directors, and acting workshops. In addition, members get access to online classes where they can learn to edit their own reel or photoshop headshots.

    If you’re into voice acting, you can take advantage of the Don LaFontaine Voiceover Lab. Here you can take free voiceover and technical classes, as well as have access to booth time and practice sessions.

    There are also benefits like deals and discounts on gym memberships, streaming subscriptions, and legal services to name a few, mixers and events, and screeners.

            **4. It can limit you.**
    

    A downside to joining SAF/AFTRA is you won't be allowed to take opportunities in film and TV that are not under the union’s jurisdiction. Not joining a union can give you greater freedom in choosing the roles you really want.

The decision to join SAG/AFTRA or opting to join a union is up to you. It depends on how committed you are to working in the industry.

Are you confident your talent will allow you to book enough work to make the investment of joining worthwhile? If you’re not looking for full-time work as an actor, the fee that comes with joining a union may not be worth it to you. However, if you’re looking for the best paying and highest quality work, joining SAG/AFTRA may be the best choice for you.