why performance unions are in trouble


Others will say this better and most are more qualified to comment but here are my thoughts anyway.

1. The Internet – Quality non-union performers are out there and production companies see that more and more and more. Non union performers charge less. People want to pay less. See where this is going?

2. Geography – The strangle-hold production unions seemingly have on cities like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago may give unions a false sense of security. One could also argue that even in supposedly less expensive production cities like Toronto and Vancouver unions have some hold. With technology cheaper and more prevalent, who needs to work in those cities to produce quality work? Nobody.

3. The Economy– You really think TV and Radio union shops are going to be able to negotiate anything of real value in the near future beyond “you’ll still have a job”? Ad revenues are in the toilet and there is no money for people…hence all the lay-offs. Not good all the way around.

4. Public and long term in-fighting – The Screen Actors Guild has become an embarrassment to watch with it members finally firing their chief negotiator. Today according to the New York Times public and bitter squabble will continue in court. Mind you, this is all about in-fighting- control of the union stuff with no resolution to the contract issues. How much credibility the union has lost in the minds of producers is probably incalculable.


Unions have a place in this world IF they operate respectfully and within sound business reason (enjoy trying to drill down THAT definition).

Without a union-base in place as a foundation for setting wages, the inequity of wages that is currently in place among non-union performers (especially in the voice over world) will literally explode and the shrapnel will be lower wages for performers. It would be like the 1920’s for performers all over again.

Unions were established to provide healthy, safe and equitable working conditions for workers who were grossly abused by their employers. The bosses got irresponsible and the unions stemmed that awful tide.

In the performance unions, one of the things that unions established was minimum pay scale upon which fees and residuals should and would be paid. A minimum market value for work performed. This is a very good thing and has always benefitted performers including non-union performers who usually base their rates in part on union scale.


The unions, however, seemed to fall prey to bad habits of the nasty employers who caused the unions’ formation in the first place. The union leaders kept requiring more and more financially from its dues-paying membership while offering less value to them.

Combine this with the increasing numbers of union members who are electing to become fi-core members as well as the three points I made above and you should see a real problem brewing for unions.

All this trouble for the unions, by the way, does not mean good news for non-union performers (of which I am currently one). A strong, equitable and respected union ultimately benefits ALL performers including the non-union performers.

The unions today are as unwieldy as the corporations they try to tame so I really don’t know how a lot of this can be fixed. I might suggest reviewing why SAG has a national board of 71 people just as a starting point.

But step 1 has to be that SAG fixes its internal problems immediately and privately. Continued high profile and public in-fighting will lead to its demise and will leave a gapping hole (opportunity) to undermine the performance union system.

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