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Can Non-Union Talent be hired for a Union Production?

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As casting director Paul Russell pointed out in a recent article for Backstage, it is a myth that non-union actors cannot be hired for union productions.
In fact, it happens all the time. It is essentially how non-union actors make their way into the union – should they chose to do so.

Even if the production says in those big cap letters UNION ONLY, Paul Russell goes on to explain that “A director, producer, writer, casting director, or anyone hiring for a union project and holding auditions-by-appointment can call in whoever they want. I could call in a non-union dog for a human union role if I was so insane (but I’d lose my producer client quick).”

Join VOX Daily as we help dispel this common misconception and explain how non-union talent CAN be hired for union productions.

Any actor who wants to audition for a union production can, and should, do so. Garrett Henson, a non-union actor, has worked on union productions such as Derick Martini’s “The Curse of Downers Grove” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice.”

He says, “I’ve had firsthand experience on these gigs. A production can hire an actor that fits the role they are looking for whether they are in the union or not. The union production however does need to fill out extra paperwork to allow that non-union actor to work. This paperwork is referred to as “Taft-Hartley” and, in layman’s terms, it’s pretty much a 30 day pass to allow a non-union actor to work on the union set. Some people could easily perceive this as a penalty, but it’s not.”

What exactly is Taft-Hartley?

The SAG-AFTRA website explains that The Taft-Hartley Act allows a signatory producer to hire a non-union performer if that non-union performer possesses a quality or skill essential to the role and an available union performer with the needed quality or skill cannot be found. When hiring a non-union performer for a SAG-AFTRA covered role, the producer must submit to the union a Taft-Hartley report with the performers information, the reason for hire and the performers headshot.

After this non-union actors have 30 days to join the union after they get a union job and during that time they can do as much union work as they want and receive all the benefits union actors get, even though they aren’t paying dues toward the collective bargaining agreements. After thirty days the actor becomes what is known as “must join.”

What Does “Must Join” mean?

When an actor receives the “must join” status that means the actor must join the union before working on any other union jobs after their 30 day “pass” is up. The actor will no longer be “Taft-Hartleyed” and be able to work as a non-union actor on a union production. The union will verify a non-union performers status via a procedure called “Station 12” which clears or identifies someone as having a “must join” status. If you maintain a “must join” status you will not be permitted to work on the union jobs until you join the union.

“The union wants actors/actresses to join because they benefit from their members fees. Joining does not necessarily penalize the actor/actress, but once an actor/actress is formerly part of the union, they are no longer allowed to work “non-union” jobs,” Garrett Henson explained. “This can be bad for a beginning actor because it severely narrows the amount of work they can submit themselves to.”

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  • Peter Stern
    October 7, 2013, 5:10 am

    This raises two questions for me:
    1) Once you have ‘Must Join’ status, are you in it for life or does that expire at some point?
    1) How does Taft-Hartley affect overseas artists who may or may not be in a union in their own country?

  • Kurt Feldner
    October 8, 2013, 12:34 pm

    Thankfully, I was made aware of this provision when I received my initial VO training. So when I saw a union project ousted on recently, I wasn’t intimidated at all.

  • Lin Parkin
    October 9, 2013, 11:10 am

    Hi Peter,
    Thanks for commenting. Great questions!
    You have 5 business days to join SAG-AFTRA after your 30 day “must join” status is up. Once the 5 days have passed you would no longer be able to work on SAG-AFTRA productions until you join the union and are flagged in their system as being “must join.” I am not aware of any expiry date on that. Ultimately, their goal is to have you to join the union.
    In terms of overseas artists receiving a “Taft-Hartley,” the producer of the production would need to submit you for a “Taft-Hartley.” You do not need to be in a union in your own country to receive a “Taft-Hartley” on a US production. To the best of my knowledge, the same rules apply no matter which country you come from provided you are being hired by a SAG-AFTRA signatory.
    I would recommend calling the Taft-Hartley Department at (323) 549-6866 to learn more about how it works for overseas artists or visit
    I hope this helps!

  • marv goldsher
    October 9, 2013, 11:33 am

    Several yrs ago…6-7 or more…by way of a Chicago agency, I won a union job–a “Busch Gardens halloween promotion– that shot in LA . I was at that time non-union and therefore excited about attaining Taft-Hartley and eligible to go Union if I so decided. I followed up and…it was a mystery: Phone calls to the union in LA and in Chicago…I got nowhere…no available information in either. I gave up. Reading your article brings it all back…and I wonder if I should have fought harder to get a clarification/union membership. I was frustrated and angry. Never did happen…Gee, I would think SAG-AFTRA would have wanted another paying member. I am non-union still…maybe for the better. I have so many opportunities vs. (I guess) union only gigs. But I do wonder regretfully why it went down that way and what might have been if I was able to crack the then-union paperwork firewall.

  • Wendy Chapkis
    October 9, 2013, 11:35 am

    I just signed my first SAG contract as a non-union talent for a spot I recorded that is going national. Since I don’t live in LA or NY, going union would be detrimental to my income. This is the first union job I’ve been offered since I took my biz FT in 2007. And I don’t know when the next one will come along.

  • Julius
    November 18, 2014, 5:50 pm

    Can one be in non-union productions which are made in the UK as a union actor ?