Talking about the strength of unions in the voice over business can be a bit like talking about politics and religion at a family gathering. You’re pretty sure a fight could break out but you’re just not sure what’s going to get broken.
In the past 24 hours, news of the day and a film festival I attended brought this issue to the fore.
This item from today’s New York Daily News:
Unions representing film and television actors will negotiate separately with producers in upcoming contract talks after board members of the TV actors union voted Saturday to sever a long-standing agreement between the two guilds.
The vote by the board of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists came hours before a meeting with the Screen Actors Guild and just three months before the expiration of the contract covering movies and prime-time shows.
Despite a sometimes rocky 27-year relationship the unions had shown recent signs of peace as they prepared for the upcoming talks.
The two groups had hoped at Saturday’s meeting to set a start date for negotiations. Instead of discussing strategies the sides swapped accusations.
I’m all about synergy and combinations of effort to save time and money. A merger between SAG and AFTRA should simply happen for the good of all and no one should be allowed to go home until it’s done. The above makes me think the strength of those unions will take a hit in negotiations because of their dispute. Regardless of the reasons (many of which could be valid on either side) their positions at the bargaining table will be weakened.
At the conclusion of the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival (what, you never heard of it?) there was a great presentation by New York City casting director Judy Henderson. Along with everyone in attendance, I wanted to learn more about the casting business she ran and how I might work with her.
The bottom line is all the work she casts is union. Her markets are New York, Los Angeles and some national commercial work. It’s all union work.
Not knowing yesterday about the SAG-AFTRA tiff, I asked what I prefaced as possibly an impertinent (though that was not the intent of the question). Could she gauge the strengths of the unions based on her current experience? She was unabashedly pro-union (being a member of the new Casting Directors union) and said the unions were strong and necessary. Given the examples she offered and the markets she primarily works in, I fully understood and respected her position.
The reason I asked the question is because in many markets outside New York and LA, my non-union work is skyrocketing. That’s an observation, nothing scientific about it but I keep getting a sense that business owners and some production companies cannot be bothered with the expense and paper trail forced upon them by the unions. Of course, the reasons performing unions were needed in the first place was because wages and conditions companies offered were abysmal. So can there be a happy medium?
I’m really not for one side or the other. You really have only two choicesâ€¦if you’re not in the union at some level, you are non-union. I am non-union. For many performers, a union membership is very valuable. That’s cool. It is strictly a business decisionâ€¦one that on any other day could change for either group.
My choice was made because ultimately it gives me more opportunity to work than union work does. Its also less complicated than tracking the union work and payment rules. Certainly the down side is that there is opportunity in some cases to make much more money as a union performer. But for my business, I can currently, consistently make more money as a non-union voiceover.
Were I based in New York City or Los Angeles, I would likely be a union performer as those are primarily union towns and most of the work they do goes around the country. That said I have done work in both cities as a non-union performer.
What does dishearten me is how the two main performance unions cannot either get along or better yet merge into one stronger union. The politics of it all, the turf battles and what seem to be egos in this battle must certainly be a turnoff for other observers besides me.
I hope it gets worked out amicably for my performing peers.
Whatever your opinions, I look forward to a civil discussion here
California voice talent Bobbin Beam also writes on her blog about this situation, from the perspective of a union member.