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