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Financial Core VS Union : The Real Deal

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Oil and Water

Public skirmishes between SAG and AFTRA have got the unions in the headlines quite a bit in the past few months.

To sum up, AFTRA went on to talk up the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on their own after suspending their joint bargaining agreement with the Screen Actors Guild, and came out with some kind of solution.

AFTRA’s parent union, SAG, is now embroiled in talks following their expired contract (July 1, 2008) with the AMPTP, bargaining for more money and residual pay. The AMPTP has made their final offer (July 2, 2008) and SAG requested more time to study it. No further meetings are scheduled at this point.

There’s a lot going on between SAG and AFTRA

AFTRA has an election coming up this fall and SAG is currently running a campaign of their own to the chagrin of AFTRA. For two unions that represent a significant portion of the same people and overlap in a variety of ways, it would be nice if they could get along for the sake of their members, or as some have suggested, merge and unite under one banner.

Where does this leave those in the middle? Is there a middle?

As SAG and AFTRA continue to spar, take a moment to read this article written by a former union member with Financial Core status, Lani Minella, and her take on this often intentionally neglected yet very real dues paying non-member union designation.

Financial Core VS Union : The Real Deal

By Lani Minella

Okay everyone, I’m sure I can tick off a lot of people by opening up this Pandora’s Box, but I really want to clarify a few things which I’m happy to expound upon later if asked.

Financial core = a dues paying “non-member” who’s allowed to do union and non union work.

The only thing they can’t do is vote on union issues and IMHO (in my humble opinion), the union doesn’t ever consider it’s members’ votes anyway.

Yes you can join as Fi-Core even though many union peeps may try to tell you otherwise. It is not true that you have to join as union first and then go fi-core!

Where some agents stand

There has not been a talent agency union franchise agreement in place for over a year and a half. The agents got ticked at the union trying to tell them how to run their offices and denying the agents the ability to earn extra money by either teaching or co-producing projects and as a result, agents have nothing against you being Fi-Core and there’s no stigma involved.

No clients will ever know you are FiCore

That is something the union wants to keep a secret because once it gets out how many people are Core, the union would have No Clout at all. When a client Station 12s the list of talent that will be used on a union project, they submit the talents’ social security numbers and the union responds with either the words “Okay, Must Join, or Taft Hartley” beside each actor’s name.

Charlton Heston who once was the president of SAG was Core and there are tons of well-known actors who have gone that route.

Most talents do not know that a client has to pay 60% extra on top of the actual union wage to the payroll company to cover state and federal taxes, the Health and Retirement 14.3% and the 10% agency fee.

These are the union rates for interactive VOs as of 1/1/08:
Up to 3 voices or 4 hour day = $759
Additional voice = $253 per voice
6-10 voices or 6 hour day = $1,518

Here’s a rate not many people know exists: 1 voice/1 hour = $379.50

If you do a cartoon (that’s direct to DVD) you only get the half day rate for the entire full first day. If you work beyond the first day, rates return to the above. Not sure if this is different for cartoons that are aired.

As FiCore, if you work a union gig, your 14.3 % is still paid and goes toward your possibly qualifying to buy your own health coverage. You have to earn a minimum of $15 K a year as a single actor to be able to purchase union health coverage. It’s not free.

If you’re union and considering going FiCore

If you are already union and considering going FiCore, all you have to do is fax or mail your union office a letter stating that effective immediately you are going Financial Core Status and you wish your dues to be adjusted accordingly. You won’t save more than about 90 cents on dues, but after they get your letter, someone will inevitably call you to try and talk you out of your decision.

Does Anyone Else Know if You’re FiCore?

They will tell you how it could cost you over $1000 to reinstate yourself to full union status (why would you ever need to?) and they will try and tell you how you are hurting the union’s ability to best serve you. That’s BS. As I said, no one will ever know you are FiCore except the union and you. I was full union status for SAG and AFTRA for over 15 years and I went FiCore about 2 years ago. Never a problem.

You have to mail them back your precious membership card (Big deal–go to Kinkos, make a color copy and frame it if it’s so dear to you.)

No one will ever ask to see your card.

If you go to a union job, you are considered union.

Agents can talk freely about FiCore now without thinking a Mobster from the union will slit their throat.

Here are a few issues I have about the union.

It’s supposed to be a national union that we belong to. But instead of facilitating us being hired outside our locale, the union makes a client prove they’ve done an earnest local search for talent and couldn’t find anyone with your qualifications before they are “allowed to bring you into their locale.”

Technically with everything being electronic nowadays, this seldom presents an issue, but when it comes to travel fees, it can cost the client more than your performance to pay for your travel anytime you go outside the 30 mile radius from the nearest union office… figured on $139/per hour and 39 cents a gallon for gas. Boy they sure don’t pay well for gas. Anyway, your mileage is figured out using something like MapQuest from your door to the studio’s door.

Closest Union Office to San Diego

Being that our union offices in San Diego closed years ago, LA is considered our office. But if we try and get the travel fees we are entitled to as union members, LA clients will either find a local talent or say, “If you want the job… all it pays is scale… take it or leave it.”

Yes the union will fight for you if you tell them to, but you will soon be blackballed in the industry if you do.

So even though we belong to a national union, it’s rather discriminatory as far as making jobs universally user-friendly to actors in different cities.

Same thing goes if you have a problem getting an agent or a problem with the agent you have. The union will follow up on a complaint if you file one, but they will admit that if you stir up things, you’ll soon be on the undesirable list.

I respect anyone who doggedly stays totally union, but I merely wanted to point out some facts which few people know to allow everyone to make up their minds based on truth rather than rumor.

NO one will blackball you if you are FiCore. On the contrary, agents love it when they can send you out on every kind of job. And no clients talk to each other comparing notes about how much they paid a certain actor for different jobs.

Does FiCore Mean Not Paying Dues?

I’ve had people think FiCore means we don’t pay dues, but we pay 99.99% of the same dues as every other union member. We don’t save $5 anymore either for belonging to both unions. Membership dues are also increased every time you earn more with each union job.
Here’s the last thing many people don’t know about collecting unemployment from a union job. Just like our normal unemployment works by being cumulative… once you reach a certain quarter, every union job you work for will allow you to go collect unemployment the day after you record for that client.

Yes you can even do that as a FiCore member as long as the job was a union job. They say the LA unemployment office has a special side door for the big stars to collect after they finish their multi-million dollar movies.

What’s bad about this is how this client you worked for, who may have several full time employees at their business that they pay unemployment insurance for… maybe hit with a rate increase for their unemployment if they start getting a lot of claims by actors who may have only worked for them in a studio for an hour.

And here’s the final question which few people can find an answer to;

Of all the Health and Retirement contributions we’ve put into the kitty over the years—–what can we expect to reap (dollar-wise) when WE retire?

If anyone knows that answer, please share.

Lastly, people have considered legal action against the union because it seems unethical to be a dues paying NON member. How can you pay dues to NOT belong to something?

But no one has followed up with that idea because the union is its own CLUB and can have its own rules.

Best to all,

Any comments?

Is it a good time to get into voice acting?

It’s a great time to be in VO. The market has gotten huge and global since email and MP3 technology exploded. When I started in 1990 everything was controlled by the Big LA & NY Talent Agencies – now there are international online casting companies as well as more small agencies jumping in on this lucrative and ever expanding business.

This article was republished here with the purpose of facilitating a conversation. We are welcoming opinions from all perspectives on this issue.

Best wishes,


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  • Jacob RG Canon
    July 8, 2008, 9:29 am

    This was a great article for me personally. I’m looking to go union as soon as I can get the enough of the union status work. There are so many independents that are happy to promise things and then when it comes time to sign an agreement they have changed that agreement to effectively shut you out from being paid. So, what is the union doing in the end is the real question. There are difficulties and questions on both sides. Ultimately, I feel it is still buyer beware.
    Jacob RG Canon

  • Joe J Thomas
    July 8, 2008, 9:32 am

    Thanks Stephanie and Lani.
    It’s always good to have an insider’s view on such a controversial topic.
    One additional note about Fi-Core: in addition to not being able to vote, you also lose the right to hold office, and cannot attend some member events (although I never got a clear definition of *which* events)
    FYI: The Fi-Core dues amount is supposed to be based on what it actually costs the union to negotiate and maintain the organization (the “Financial Core” of the total dues) vs. other expenses such as parties, promotion, etc. The reason that Fi-Core members still pay close to 100% is that SAG and Aftra have never opened their books to show exactly how much the “Financial Core” amount is. Someone will have to challenge them in court to have that happen, and that’s very unlikely.
    Another source of information for those interested is a small handbook for sale on the web from Mark McIntire. It is very detailed and gives an honest assesment from both sides of the Fi-Core issue, in my opinion.
    Knowledge is Power – Arm Yourselves 😉

  • James Clamp
    July 8, 2008, 9:33 am

    Thanks Lani for a fabulous article – well written and well informed.
    HOWEVER, I would like to point out a discrepancy in the Talent Agent paragraph – I am signed with a large agency that has stated flat out to me that in their eyes being Fi-Core was a bad decision and more importantly, they would NOT represent me if I were to go Fi-Core. There was no discussion on this issue.
    It’s a very difficult line to tread.

  • Stephanie Ciccarelli
    July 8, 2008, 10:38 am

    Hi Jacob, Joe, James and Peter,
    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and insights.
    @ Jacob – It’s nice to meet you Jacob. I’m glad that this article met your needs.
    @ Joe – Thank you for giving an even more detailed definition of what it means to be financial core. That’s very interesting and I’m sure some day those figures will be made public.
    @ James – James, thank you for letting us know how your agent stands. I would imagine there are others of that persuasion too. Lani has a point though that it has become less and less of an issue for some agents for various reasons.
    @ Peter – I’m reading your article right now. Thank you for including the link 🙂 As always, it is a delight to read your opinions. I appreciate your forthright approach.
    Does anyone else have something they’d like to say or share?
    Best wishes,

  • Joe J Thomas
    July 8, 2008, 11:08 am

    @James: It is an “unfair labor practice” (ie. Illegal) for the agency to refuse representation solely on the basis of your choosing to go Fi-Core. In my opinion, they are inviting a law suit. Either way, I would not want to be represented by an agent with such a policy.
    I have not run into that type of attitude in the industry thus far. It may be that I lack the experience, or am just lucky. The agents, casting directors, producers, etc. that I’ve spoken with about Fi-Core are all supportive of both sides of the issue.

  • Ed Victor
    July 8, 2008, 11:15 am

    Perfectly written and great cut through the BS facts. I am union, both SAG/AFTRA and have been for some 15 years or so.
    I continually want to go FICORE, simply because the word union in Florida (a right to work state) is more detrimental. Clients don’t want the hassle of dealing with residuals, units, pension and welfare, etc. So the majority of the work down here is going to all non-union talent. Conversely, the big agencies with the big work, will only go with union. The rub? All the big agencies with the big work hire the big guns or name actors in L.A. or NYC. So there is no big paying union work for the hard working voice guy not in those markets. At least that’s been my experience.

  • Peter O'Connell
    July 8, 2008, 9:46 am

    Great article. Thanks for offering Lani the vine. Sorry I didn’t get to meet her when I was in San Diego last week.
    Another San Diego-based voice talent, Connie Terwilliger and I were corresponding on the voxmarketising blog about this very issue following a post I made on this topic in June.
    Oddly, the way Lani wrote her piece, it almost makes sense to join the union (as Fi Core). Maybe the unions need to look at Fi Core as a possible savior for lagging membership.
    To be continued, I suppose.
    Best always,
    – Peter

  • Jeff Gelder
    July 8, 2008, 2:17 pm

    Hi Lani & Stephanie,
    Thank you Lani for sharing your wealth of information and to Stephanie for publishing it here. It is very informative and seems hard to come by. Kudos to you both!

  • Mike Kraft
    July 8, 2008, 7:06 pm

    Stephanie, Lani, et al:
    I hardly know where to begin. From the opening “Oil and Water” through Lani’s piece, there are so many inaccuracies, half-truths and outright falsehoods, it is sure to leave a misleading stain on the issue. Rather than parse the entire article and rebut each point, I instead offer this article which I wrote on the subject. I encourage all to be fully informed when considering going Financial Core. I apologize for the article’s length.
    To Anyone Considering Financial Core Status
    Thinking About Financial Core?
    It may be that you are agonizing over your decision to declare Financial Core. If so, I applaud the fact that you have at least given this issue some thought; it is not a decision to be made lightly. It may also be that you have not thought enough about it; in which case, you should think a little more; you may decide differently. I would like you to know more about Why Financial Core exists, what it will mean to the Union, and ultimately to you as a professional performer.
    Basically, Financial Core means that a Union member may elect to pay (slightly) reduced dues to pay for the costs of negotiating and administering Union contracts, while resigning from the Union. Hence, a Financial Core performer is considered a “Dues Paying Non-Member,” an important distinction. Once a performer chooses this status, they are free to work on either Union or non-union jobs. However, if they wish to become members again, they must petition the local board, and if readmitted, pay the current initiation fee.
    So far, it still doesn’t sound too bad. But some history is in order. The idea of Financial Core came about as a result of the ruling in a 1988 Supreme Court case, Communications Workers of America vs. Beck.
    A Brief History of Financial Core
    In 1989, Harry Beck, an AT&T employee, challenged compulsory union membership, objecting that he should not have to support the political aims of his Union with his dues, claiming it unjust that free people in a free country should be compelled to pay for political and social agendas that affront their deepest beliefs. The Court agreed with Beck, ruling that under a Union security clause, workers could only be required to pay dues and fees directly associated with the negotiation and administration of the labor contract.
    So, once it was determined that Unions could not require workers to pay for other than core services, it was a logical step to the conclusion that those choosing this status were not actually “members” of the Union; They were dues-paying non-members. They could not vote in Union elections, participate in member functions, etc. And if they were not members, they could not be prevented from accepting non-union employment, subverting union standards throughout the industry. And that’s where the loophole opened. Did Mr. Beck and his attorneys intend this result? You decide. But be not deceived; as it pertains to our Union, it is nothing more than a legal loophole. If the original intent was to avoid supporting a political agenda he didn’t believe in, Mr. Beck (et al) ended up in a place far removed from such lofty ideals.
    Finding the Truth in the Thicket
    In reality, Financial Core is a cancer that is being promulgated by the multi-national corporations who would like nothing more than the complete eradication of the Unions. There are law firms, lobby groups and “actor’s support” groups dedicated to encouraging, aiding and abetting Union actors to go Financial Core, wrapping their dogma in the American flag, saying it is your right as an American to stand up to the “tyranny” of the Union.
    Nothing could be farther from the truth. From the beginning, the lawsuit at the heart of Financial Core was designed to break a Union. It was intended to pit the workers who were protected by the Union against the Union, in effect severing the hand that was feeding them. It did not break the Union, but it weakened all Unions by allowing members to disavow their allegiance while still reaping the benefits of the wages and working conditions the Union had fought for on their behalf.
    An Example of Financial Core at Work
    When a performer elects financial core, they put themselves in a rather tenuous ethical position, to wit: Imagine you are a producer who hires a dues-paying non-member under a Union contract. You pay scale wages along with the requisite Health and Retirement benefits, as well as overtime when the shoot runs long. You pay the performer as an employee, with the necessary Social Security and Worker’s Comp benefits included. You are a good and honest signatory.
    The next day, you discover this same performer is working for your competitor on a non-union job. They cut the day rate, didn’t charge for overtime and billed as an independent contractor. You feel taken advantage of—why should you pay more than your competition for the exact same services? You now have two choices; refuse to hire that performer again, or relinquish your signatory status and book non-union at the cut rate.
    Or perhaps the dues-paying non-member worked for the non-signatory at a higher rate than Union scale, which is well and good for the performer and the rates in the market. However, this performer (who is receiving health and retirement benefits from the Union) has now received income from a production source within our jurisdiction without requiring that the producer contribute to the Health and Retirement Funds as required under the Union contract, thus diminishing the value of the funds for all members. On an individual basis, a small amount; but let the tide turn and watch the shore erode.
    Either way, all performers suffer; the dues-paying non-member has just sucked blood out of the Union dog they’re riding on, weakening it. But at least they still have their morals. They didn’t support any political lobbying by the Union. (That was the reason they went financial core, right? It couldn’t have been just to undercut rates or work for non-signatories.)
    Every Financial Core performer gives a producer one more reason not to be a signatory, and every signatory that falls by the wayside is another step down the evolutionary ladder to chaos in the market for your services. If everyone went financial core, ultimately the Union would cease to exist, and what would protect you then? If your non-signatory producer decides not to pay you your half-price day rate, what are you going to do, take him to court for your $150? If the Union were still there, they would go after your money. When you’re paying $600 a month in health insurance, how many days will you have to work to pay for it? When your competitor decides this is just a hobby, and is willing to do it for $75 a day, will you chase him down the rat hole for crumbs? The Union presence maintains stability and fairness in the market.
    How We Are Different
    Our work is fairly unique; we get paid for the use of our image, the sound of our voice, our ability to interpret and deliver a message. We are paid for the intrinsic value of the result of our labor, rather than the actual time it took to produce the result. What we do is not a product, nor is it a service. It is intellectual property, and that has real value. That’s why we receive residuals when the result of our work is used again, or in another market, or for another client. There is still value in the work itself long after it is performed, and that is one of the many reasons we have a Union to protect our work from exploitation.
    Remember Why We Have a Union
    The wages and working conditions that have been fought for over the years are not arbitrary. Scale wages are not gifts; they are not unreasonable amounts. They are based on a mutually agreed value for the services. The adversarial relationship between labor and management spelled out by the National Labor Relations Board has its purpose; fighting over what is fair and just takes thought, reason and time, and many loyal people are working on your behalf (for no pay) to secure these benefits for you. The wages in our market, Union and non-union, are driven solely by the efforts of Union activity.
    Let’s Talk About You
    If you work regularly as a professional performer, you are an example that others follow. When it is seen that you are going Financial Core, others will wonder why they shouldn’t as well, and soon the bricks fall from the wall one by one, until there is no wall standing anymore.
    I would recommend that if your convictions are so strong that you simply cannot abide paying for Union activities outside of the “core” responsibilities to members, by all means go financial core. And once you are financial core, only accept Union work. That way, your conscience will be clear on both fronts; you will be true to your beliefs, while at the same time helping maintain the wages and working conditions that many have fought so hard for. You will save approximately 2% in dues, which you can then donate to your favorite cause.
    But if you intend to go financial core for your own short-term gain, you are merely taking advantage of Mr. Beck’s loophole; you are subverting the Union, and no amount of rationalization will change the fact that you are riding on the back of the big dog while sucking the blood from it. And when the big dog dies, you’ll be left with the runts and mongrels.
    The Struggle
    It is an epic battle, and one that has been fought for hundreds of years—the worker versus the employer. Business has no conscience; it exists for the sole purpose of making money and increasing shareholder value. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with that; I enjoy a nice return on my mutual funds as much as anybody, but paying the worker as little as possible has always been a goal of business, and there is something wrong with that; and you are helping them achieve that goal.
    By caving in to the economic pressure of an anti-union effort rather than fighting for fairness in wages and working conditions, and working toward organizing and increasing Union work opportunities, you are giving aid and comfort to the enemy; those who would bring down the Union.
    What You Can Do
    Rather than going Financial Core, here are things you can do to maintain your true Union status and increase opportunities for all in this market:
    When a prospective employer requests your services for a non-union role, inform them that you are in the Union and to do so would violate the agreement you have made with your Union. Tell them that it is important for all professional actors to be paid fairly for their work, and that the only way to maintain a stable base of professional performers is with adequate compensation.
    In the case of non-broadcast work, let them know how easy it is to hire Union actors even if they are not a signatory, by employing the “OPO”, or One Production Only Letter of Adherence.
    In the case of broadcast work, ask them to consider becoming a signatory, that they may have access to the tremendous base of quality Union performers.
    If a potential broadcast employer declines signatory status, see if they are willing to go through another signatory (e.g., recording studio, production house, independent producer, advertiser, etc.) for purposes of this production.
    Tell them that the cost of hiring a Union professional is a fraction of the total cost of their production budget, and that the actor has the greatest impact on how their production is received by the audience. Mediocre talent equals mediocre results.
    At all times let producers know that hiring Union talent means good business for everyone, and the difference in cost is more than offset by the quality received.
    Respect Yourself
    Remember; as an actor, you are a communicator. You have abilities that the general public does not; not everyone can do what we do. And therein lies the benefit to the employers. You deserve to be compensated fairly for the value that the employer receives and very often profits from. If you do not demand fair compensation, (including proper working conditions and health & retirement benefits) how can you expect the employers to respect you as a professional?
    The issue is not really about you, or any one person. It is about an entire class of people who find their only strength in numbers. Without a chorus of voices demanding fairness, the adversaries can only assume they are in the right, and will continue cutting wages and benefits until they reach the point where it becomes intolerable to the worker. They want to find that threshold and keep people as close to it as possible.
    Make a choice; be Union or non-union. There is work for both. But if you choose financial core, be prepared for the results of your decision. It will not be looked on favorably by your Union peers.
    This is not a joke. Financial Core will eat away at the Union until it ceases to exist, and they will have won. I implore you to reconsider your decision. The future of the Union and your livelihood depend on it.
    Mike Kraft
    President, AFTRA Cleveland Local

  • Stephanie Ciccarelli
    July 8, 2008, 8:23 pm

    Hi Mike,
    Thank you for sharing your article with us. I appreciate hearing your feedback and opinion as someone who plays a significant role within AFTRA.
    Does anyone have anything they would like to add or comment on regarding Mike’s article?
    Best wishes,

  • Lani Minella
    July 8, 2008, 10:17 pm

    This is in response to Mr. Kraft, who obviously is pro union due to his position as President of AFTRA/Cleveland. With all due respect, I wish to reply to several of your comments. First of all, to intimate that anyone who is professional would even THINK of asking another client what they paid an actor for a completely different project is ludicrous. Just doesn’t happen with professionals, and I’ve never heard of an actual instance of it happening at all. Feel free to correct me with specifics.
    Now, to your comment about mediocre talent giving mediocre results. I have hired plenty of union talents that are really pathetic compared to many non-union talents. Where does union membership imply anything to do with actual talent? When I was a SAG/AFTRA union member for over 15 years, I actually had to remove the union listing under my name on my resume before any client would even approach me. What does that tell you about how the union is perceived by people wanting to hire us? They have always been a pain in the butt to deal with and have never made strides to make life easier, consolidate paperwork or understand different genres for individual needs. One time use agreements are not the answer. The union needs to be overall more USER FRIENDLY and accommodating to everyone.
    Anyone can join AFTRA and if they are in good standing for a year, they can join SAG. Anyone can be an extra for 3 times in a SAG movie and get a SAG card. Again-no talent required. Anyone can luck out and get cast by a friend or family member in any union production and thus qualify for union membership–without one ounce of talent. Answer me this: Where does this guarantee of better talent come from? I wish there was a Bona Fide way of insuring that a majority of union members innately had talent, but there isn’t. Too bad. How can that possibly change?
    Your statement about the union going after your money holds some merit, but there are still concerns. The union has the right to penalize a client for every day past 13 days of the performance (correct me if I’m wrong) until the check is given to the performer. Some clients are choosing to take the penalty (which has a cap -again…please correct if I’m in error)…. instead of paying on time. The union is quick to assess penalties for non-payment, but it’s the middle man, and there’s nothing obligating the union to pay the performer within “x-amount of days” of the union receiving the check is there? How easy is it for any union member to go after the union for payment? In fact, from experience, I can attest to being on hold or transferred between department after department at SAG/AFTRA LA because no one knew the answer to anything, and even the people I was transferred to at the union, called the other departments “clueless.” Not a very well-run or efficient organization, is it? Ever tried to get an answer about fees or wages from your union office? Chances are, you may not get the same answer from 2 different departments, or you might be transferred to voicemail and left in limboland. Is this the wonderful powerful organization that’s doing us such favors? They criticize their own people and can’t even understand their own legal verbage. I spent several hours with SAG’s lawyers trying to get answers and they said, “Who wrote this stuff? I’m sorry, we can’t make sense out of this either.” Lovely, isn’t it?
    I think it’s time for an overhaul. Instead of claiming entitlement, let’s look at specific issues, try to accommodate clients for varying needs and not make it so daunting as far as paperwork and hoops to jump through. Maybe we can work out something that doesn’t pay by the voice and group a certain number of voices together if there are 1-2 lines per character. Many more game companies would agree to that.
    I cast and directed an AFTRA game and I paid many “must join” talents double scale for the 6 voice rate so they could afford to join AFTRA. I gave them the choice to join as Fi-Core, because San Diego simply doesn’t have enough union jobs to earn a living if VO is all you do. The checks came in for the talent at the AFTRA office and the talent was told, “Come and get your check if you want to join as union. We don’t have the paperwork if you want to join as Fi-Core and it could take another week to get the paperwork in order.” I phoned the union and asked where this “paperwork” was? They said, “New York.” I asked why someone couldn’t fax the paperwork the same day? I was given lame excuses that had no merit. I gave my talent the option to wait and join as Fi-Core or join as full union status if they wanted their checks that week. They all waited and are very happy they did.
    To tell a client that it’s advantageous to pay union rates under a one time agreement —makes me ask again—“What is so advantageous about paying 60% on top of union scale to pay a payroll company all the witholding, state and federal taxes, H & R etc—if there is no prerequisite requiring union members to actually be more talented than non union members? I’ve tried for years to meet with union officials and change things for the better. When they tried to ask for residuals for games when the developers we work for don’t even get residuals and they work full time for far less hourly than we get——-this is another example of unions pushing their weight around without giving individual consideration for every possible genre of work. “Pay by the voice,” is the rule. Considering that many online multiplayer games may have 139 parts for a total of 140 lines (i.e. one line per part), it’s economic disaster asking some small developer in Minsk to foot the bill for union scale when the game probably won’t sell enough units to even pay for its development (without voices even being included inthe budget) The union should give a little to get more people on its side. Instead it still tries to use scare tactics or says you are undermining a worthy organization, when in actuality the organization itself admits it’s understaffed, under-supported and disharmonious to its sister union.
    Commercials are priced according to distribution, usage and marketplaces. Why not try and apply that toward games or cartoons? The problem with the union asking for bigger and bigger pieces of the pie is that it gives little consideration for individual developers’ cost-basis, individual needs or actual sales. It’s a known fact that a large percentage of games out there don’t sell enough units to pay for the cost of development. Sometimes a publisher may make up losses by localizing in foreign languages, but that has nothing to do with us, who did the project in English.
    I’ve seen the article stating that the majority of top selling video games were done UNION. Well, duh! Electronic Arts has the most money and is a union sig. Their games notoriously are top sellers because of the genre they’re in. Sports Titles. Few other developers or publishers have kept their union sig status and that includes one of the top developers making the most money: Blizzard for World of Warcraft. Plus—Sega, Nintendo, Sony, Blizzard, Capcom, —all are non-union. What does this tell you?
    Super Smash Brothers Mario game sold more copies in the first week than almost any game to date. It was recorded non-union.
    I know. I was there. Everyone was paid well and on time. Non union—no issues.
    Everyone values residuals, which are a blessing, and the union claims to insure that it will be your watchdog, making sure you get what you deserve. That’s wonderful indeed! However, games should not be classified in the same vein. Shelf life of most games is less than 6 months and again, many titles don’t even sell 10,000 copies which is less than 1% of the cost of development.
    Gamers don’t care about voices, celebrities or as you wrote: the use of our image, the sound of our voice, our ability to interpret and deliver a message. We are paid for the intrinsic value of the result of our labor rather than the actual time it took to produce the result. What we do is not a product nor is it a service. It is intellectual property and that has real value.
    Really? Time for a reality check. If you knew anything about the computer game industry (which I have served since 1992 and done over 450 titles)—you’d know that voices are the last hair of the tail that wags the dog. Gamers don’t care much at all about voice acting. Game play is where it’s at.
    Bad scripts make for bad voices, no matter how good an actor is—on screen or for any genre. And what is this “intrinsic value” of which you speak? How do you figure that union wages pay for the result of our labor rather than the time it took to produce the result when interactive wages are based on “up to 4 hours or 3 voices” rate (just an example), whichever comes first?
    Games are not noble prize winners as far as content or scripts. I’ve asked the editors of every game magazine out there what they think about celebrities doing voices for games and every one of them said they hate having to interview celebs.
    They usually are not the best voice actors for games. They aren’t gamers themselves, and the only reason they decided to do the job was because their kids thought it would be cool.” That’s a direct quote. Go tell that to marketing. The disparity between perceived value and real value persists whether it’s for celebs or union talent. TALENT is the key point I’m trying to make. A union card has never guaranteed talent, and until it does, I feel this is all a bunch of rhetoric and strong arming, not benefiting anyone. I’m the first to love union pay… but I deal with the other side of the coin enough to know that it can’t be afforded by so many game developers, that if we insisted on doing only union jobs, we would not only short change ourselves but also provide giants like EA the ability to monopolize the industry. Small developers fold, and there goes more job opportunities. You need to give a little to get a little. And the more we are flexible, the better we serve the union and everyone else out there.
    The union doesn’t tell anyone else that a talent is FiCore. It still gets its 14.3% H & R for every union job regardless of whether the talent is entitled to be able to purchase their union health insurance. FiCore members still support all the celebs and the handful of union members who actually make a living doing union work. The majority of members do not survive solely on union work at all. Can you honestly tell me you don’t know of actual union members who do non-union work using pseudonyms? Which is worse? Being honest and FiCore, or cheating and getting away with non union work while being a “union member” using a fake name?
    Okay, I thank you for taking the time to read this and apologize for the length.
    All the best,

  • Mike Kraft
    July 9, 2008, 2:15 pm

    OK, this is another long one. Sorry.
    Thanks for your response. I understand that everyone has their own experiences that lead them to their opinions and decisions, and you obviously feel strongly about the issue. However, there is and will always be a “greater good” that comes from a strong union presence. Without it, all talk of “fairness” and “rights” for performers would be meaningless. Individual performers have zero power. It’s as simple as that. Say what you will, but business rarely has a conscience. And when it does, it’s usually as a result of someone holding a stick.
    But I would like to go back and discuss each point of the original post, if I may.
    As to the “Oil and Water” part of the post:
    1.) AFTRA did not “talk up” the AMPTP and come out with “some kind of solution.” What we did was negotiate fairly and firmly and came out with a contract that both sides could live with, and was a good deal for our members. This was unanimously approved by the 31-member negotiating committee (all dual-card holders) and approved by the National Board by a margin of 99 to 8 and ratified by 62.4% of its members, many of them dual-card holders. This happened despite SAG’s well-funded efforts to defeat the contract.
    2.) SAG is not AFTRA’s “parent union” in any way. We have always been separate unions, though we have negotiated our contracts jointly for the last 27 years. AFTRA suspended joint bargaining after many well-documented affronts and attacks by SAG to belittle, discredit and eliminate us from negotiations by instituting “block voting” on the SAG side, which would have had the effect of rendering our votes useless.
    3.) SAG is not currently “embroiled in talks” with the AMPTP. On the contrary, The AMPTP has given SAG their “best, last and final” offer and walked away from negotiations, after SAG was unable to negotiate a contract over the course of 42 days of bargaining, whereas AFTRA negotiated a contract in 17 days.
    4.) AFTRA does not have an election coming up this fall. We, as well as SAG, have contracts expiring that will be up for negotiations, most notably the Commercials Contract. SAG does have elections coming up, where perhaps certain members will be voted out as a result of their stance on the AFTRA contract issue.
    5.) Indeed it would “be nice” if SAG and AFTRA could get along and merge. In the last merger vote years ago, 76% of AFTRA members and 58% of SAG members voted YES for a merger. However, a supermajority of 60% was needed in each union in order to pass. By my count, that means 134 of every 200 performers wanted the merger. It is only because of a small but powerful cadre of Hollywood performers’ efforts against merger that it failed.
    6.) How this current situation between the unions equates to a great time to go Financial Core is beyond me. This current rift is indeed weakening the power of the unions. However, I believe that this too will level out. There are right-minded people on both sides (AFTRA and SAG) who want to bring these unions together for the benefit of ALL performers, not just Hollywood actors. Now more than ever, union performers need to stand strong and show true solidarity, not just jump the fence because it is convenient.
    And now to your section of the post, Lani:
    7.) The union does consider it’s members votes. They don’t always vote the way some would expect or like, but the union does indeed abide by the democratic process and do the bidding of its members. It doesn’t always jump to act on the opinions of its members, however.
    8.) Yes, you can pay your dues and initiation fee and “join” as Fi-Core. Of course, it goes completely against the very idea and basic tenets of Financial Core, which is to not want to pay for the political activities of one’s union. Why would you want to join an organization only to protest its politics? Oh, wait…it would be for a narrow self-interest so you could do union and non-union jobs, rather than declaring one way or the other.
    9.) SAG rightly objected to the large talent agents being in the production business, as that is an absolute conflict of interest. If I am the producer and the representative of the talent I want to employ, isn’t that rather like the old Firesign Theatre bit from “Don’t Crush that Dwarf?”:
    “Gee Dad, I still don’t see how you can be my defense attorney and the People’s Prosecutor all at the same time!”
    “Easy son. That way I can personally see that you’re persecuted to the full extent of the law!”
    “That’s my Dad!”
    The reason that many agents “have nothing against” Fi-Core is because they are not restricted in the amount of commission they can charge for non-union performances. However, many agents have a lot against Fi-Core, philosophically and legally. Though the IRS has not decided to crack down, all of those non-union performers working under 1099-MISC status are in violation of the IRS rules governing independent contractors, as are the agents and producers who pay them. The IRS has been very clear that actors are “employees,” not independent contractors.
    10.) The clients that will know if you are Fi-Core are the ones who ASK for Fi-Core.
    11.) Yes, old Chuck Heston was once a SAG prez and was the co-founder of the Financial Core Foundation, along with Mark McIntire, who filed a brief, amicus curiae (friend of the court,) in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case: COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA v. BECK, 1988, the basis of Financial Core, which I referred to in my earlier post. Rather than offering non-partisan counsel on the subject, Mr. McIntire was more than a little slanted in his opinions to the court. He also makes some income off the sale of his book on how to go Fi-Core.
    As to why Mr. Heston would add his imprimatur to the cause, I can only assume that he believes in his statement, “Financial Core is an individual liberty issue protected by the U.S. Supreme Court. Mark McIntire best explains how individual union members have the right to shield their dues money from financing objectionable political activities.”
    If you agree with Mr. Heston, and the reason you are going Fi-Core is because you do not believe in financing SAG or AFTRA’s political activities, I am behind you 100%. That is, if you are currently a member. If, however, you are “joining as Fi-Core” merely so you can do union and non-union work, then you are subverting the true nature of Fi-Core and exercising its legal loophole for your own individual self-interest. For the full reason why C.H. went Fi-Core, investigate The Agony and the Ecstasy: Charlton Heston and the Screen Actors Guild/Journal of Policy History – Volume 17, Number 2, 2005, pp. 217-239 by Emily Raymond. I can assure you, it wasn’t so he could do non-union work.
    (And personally, having Charlton Heston as your poster boy does not, in my mind, lend an air of legitimacy to a cause. )
    12.) The “markup” is 10% for the agent, 14.5% for H&R and approximately 24% for taxes, state and Federal depending on your state and your tax bracket. So yes, there is a substantial increase (around 50%) in costs over the base pay. There are also another couple of points added if you go through an independent paymaster. However, if you are non-union, there is a markup of 20% from the agent, so the difference in markup between union and non-union is more like 30%. Still a lot of money for a producer, but from a talent standpoint, bear in mind that an agent typically charges 20% commission FROM THE TALENT in addition to an Agency Service Fee of 10 to 20% to the producer. And then the talent gets to pay ALL of the 15.3% self employment (Social Security) tax themselves. So as a talent, would I rather have that 35.3% coming out of the producer’s pocket or mine?
    13.) You say: “Here’s a rate not many people know exists: 1 voice/1 hour = $379.50.” If that’s a rate “not many people know exists” they’re not trying hard enough. It’s posted on AFTRA and SAG’s websites under “Contracts/Interactive.” I am not familiar with the half-day rate for straight to DVD cartoons you mention. But are you saying it’s a good thing (as a producer) or a bad thing (as a talent)? I can’t tell.
    14.) Yes, if your local office is doing their job, they will try to convince you not to go Fi-Core, since so many people are ill-informed about it. They think it is something the union “offers” as a way to do non-union jobs. We like to educate them. And of course, once you go Fi-Core, you will have to appeal to your local board to be reinstated by paying the initiation fee, if you are permitted to. SAG has declared a “Once Fi-Core, always Fi-Core” stance. In other words, if you go Fi-Core, don’t expect them to let you back in at a later date if you change your mind. According to SAG:
    “Individuals who make the choice to quit their union cannot expect to be allowed back in without the union asking some questions about why they quit and what sort of work they were doing.” Screen Actors Guild Director of Organizing Todd Amorde said. “Making the decision to resign affects not just the member who resigns, but our entire union membership and our collective ability to enforce existing contracts and to organize more SAG covered work. We are dedicated to creating more union work opportunities, and it takes a strong and involved membership to keep us in a position to do that.”
    15.) I agree that the union can be a hindrance (Hey! I’m agreeing with you!) when it comes to non-local hires. Obviously we are talking about SAG, not AFTRA, which has no such rule. (And yes, I’m a 20-year SAG member as well.) The reason is that SAG is a guild, which is a protectorate, and AFTRA is an open union. Sort of like in the movie “Newsies” where the paperboys proclaim “We’re a union just by sayin’ so!” SAG likes to keep fences around their property. As far as VO goes, I see this as a major blunder. And yet, it’s usually just a formality for the producer to explain why “this unique voice is unavailable in my area.”
    16.) As to San Diego being rolled into LA, that is certainly unfortunate. It distances the membership from their leaders and makes life more difficult in terms of being compensated for time and travel. And yet, do you have any protections from the same fate if you are non-union? And weren’t you the one who was railing against the extra costs that the union puts on the producer?
    17.) In 27 years of being a union member, I have never been “blackballed” for having the union go after my money, which they have done on several occasions. As for complaints against an agent, I can see how that might upset them, depending on what the complaint is, and whether it was taken up with them personally first. But if it is a true grievance and you cannot get any satisfaction from the agent, who else will you turn to? And as for “getting an agent?” That’s not the union’s job.
    18.) I said this in the previous post, but it bears repeating: Agents love Fi-Core because they make more money off of you.
    19.) As to collecting unemployment, there is absolutely no way you can collect it from an employer after working for them in a studio for one hour, union or non. Doesn’t happen. Although the rules for unemployment benefits in California differ from other states, you still have to work a minimum amount within the “base period” of the previous five quarters. And of course, non-union independent contractors cannot file for unemployment at all.
    20.) The “final question” of H&R? I get a statement twice a year showing what my expected retirement payments will be, based on the current and projected condition of the funds. At any time, you can call the Plan office and ask for a quote or a statement. I’ve never had a problem.
    21.) And to the “lastly”: “How can you pay dues to NOT belong to something?” Perhaps you should have worded the question “Why?” instead of “How?” The WHY is because this thing that you are not a member of is still negotiating the contracts with the industry to set minimums in wages and working conditions that benefit YOU as a Fi-Core performer or a non-union performer. How do you think producers and agents come up with those figures, anyway?
    AND FINALLY (Whew, thank goodness!)
    I agree that being in the union is no guarantee of quality. There are excellent non-union performers and lousy union performers. That’s what auditions are for, to find the good ones. It is not the union’s job to set standards in acting, which of course, is highly subjective. But all of this is beside the point. The reason for the union, as I have already stated, is to provide strength in numbers to a group of people who have no strength individually. Actors will always be exploited if they have no representation.
    The union should be more user-friendly, and make a true effort to ASSIST production rather than hindering it. Many high-placed union members are working to make this a reality.
    Your suggestion to “accommodate clients for varying needs” is a good one, and one we have struggled with. The problem is that as soon as you do that, you make the contracts even more complex than they are, when what you wanted was a simpler contract. And in region-to region differences (which there are, through waivers) it can promote competition between locals, which is not in the performer’s best interests.
    I have little experience in the interactive gaming business, and I see your point on the “one-liners.” Again, the intractability of SAG on many of these issues is one of the reasons why many producers go non-union or out of the country.
    My comments about being paid for the result of our labor rather than the time spent in the studio are still true. Each industry is unique, but it is rather common for voices and on-camera pieces to be lifted and re-used in other productions. Happens all the time, and they make money off the new production, and that is intellectual property for which you should be compensated. If you say that doesn’t happen in the gaming industry, that’s great. However, the rates have to be based on something, and there should be a minimum based on your physical presence to perform the job, whether you come to a studio or sit in your pajamas at a home setup. Even though you are being paid for the USE, there is the chance your voice will not be used, and you should be compensated for your time and talent.
    And as to which is worse, an honest Fi-Core or a lying union member who works “off the card?” Simple. A union member working off the card. That’s like cheating on your girlfriend who’s been working to pay your way through college. But an honest Fi-Core who is Fi-Core for the reason of objecting to his or her union’s political activities, and not just for their own financial gain is OK with me, as long as they’re not doing non-union work. That’s the definition of an “honest” Fi-Core. Otherwise, just be non-union and do non-union jobs for the smaller companies that cannot afford to pay for union talent.
    If you read this far, thanks for your perseverance.
    Mike Kraft
    President, AFTRA Cleveland Local

  • John Jessup
    July 9, 2008, 5:10 pm

    I’m enjoying the dialogue and associate myself totally with Mike’s explication of the philosophical underpinnings of financial core status. Just one quick note. One’s “parent union” is the one joined first, so Holter was saying he joined SAG before he joined AFTRA. AFTRA is my parent union because I joined in 1969 and joined SAG in 1986. It is unfortunate that both SAG and AFTRA have been recently described as “Hollywood unions.” They are both national unions, wanting a presence across the country in part to stanch the flow of “runaway production” from the main production centers. Many are advocating for international performers unions, and it is a laudable goal. Whether it is feasible as media production explodes exponentially is a big question. But I agree with Mike; either go fi-core for philosophical reasons and don’t work non-union, or work non-union. It’s ethically indefensible to work both sides of the fence, on the backs of those who hold the line on Rule One, just because you can. Make no mistake about it, those who support Financial Core status long for the demise of organized labor. Should they succeed, performers will fit into two categories: stars and part-timers who do it for the fun of it, perhaps for no pay at all. I first served on a committee to create a plan for merger in the early 1980’s. In my opinion it was a no-brainer then and is crucial now. Not much time remains for the union performers labor movement to survive without it. You may rationalize that Fi-Core is a reasonable way to get more work, but scale will disappear unless performers join and support our unions. Then it will simply be a race to the bottom for all of us.
    John Jessup
    National Board Member, AFTRA
    representing Kansas City

  • Mark Roberts
    July 9, 2008, 5:23 pm

    “Parent Union”, as Holter Graham uses the term, refers to the fact that he joined SAG before AFTRA. I am also a dual card holder. Since I joined AFTRA first, AFTRA is my parent union. The term has nothing to do with each union’s relationship to the other.

  • Mike Kraft
    July 9, 2008, 5:32 pm

    Thanks for providing the forum. I just want to clear up what Holter said about SAG being his “parent union.” When one is a member of more than one actor’s unions, the union you joined first is considered your “parent union.” It does not mean that that union fostered the others.
    As for the “re-run election,” that was from the LA AFTRA Board election from last year, due to errors in the mailing and processing of ballots. That re-run election was held in April of this year.
    Hope this clears up any confusion. As to the official press rep? I’m not sure, but I’ll find out and get back to you.
    Mike Kraft

  • Stephanie Ciccarelli
    July 9, 2008, 5:34 pm

    Hi John, Mark, and Mike,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for your clarification of the term parent union. Thank you also for your feedback and explaining what was going on with the re-run election in LA.
    I appreciate you taking the time to participate and am considering more coverage of union activity on this blog, however, I want to be sure that what I am presenting is accepted across the board and representative of official AFTRA and or SAG if the case may be, communications.
    Is there a glossary of union jargon available that you know of that we can be referred to? I know that there are elements of the union lingo that I need to become more familiar.
    As always, we do our best to present all angles and communicate openly, and I thank everyone who has made their voices heard (and those who are yet to be heard) on this topic.
    Best wishes,

  • Cece DuBois
    July 9, 2008, 5:51 pm

    Stephanie, you referred to Holter’s comment:
    “In terms of the future, I would recommend that your readers take a good long look at how things have been going lately in our industry and in the Screen Actor’s Guild, my parent union.”
    Holter is saying that SAG is HIS ‘parent union,’ not AFTRA’s. AFTRA, however, is MY parent union, and I am also a SAG member.
    Up until a few years ago, there was a policy in place where the first union you joined – within the 4As, I believe – was considered your “parent” union. That practice is no longer used, but those of us who have been members for decades tend to use that “parent union” language, because it was in effect at the time we joined.

  • Stephanie Ciccarelli
    July 9, 2008, 3:05 pm

    Hi Mike,
    Thank you again for sharing your opinions and ideas.
    I’d like to address the point you made about SAG not being AFTRA’s parent union. I only used that term because I read it in a recent interview with AFTRA National VP Holter Graham.
    Here is the excerpt I am referring to:
    “In terms of the future, I would recommend that your readers take a good long look at how things have been going lately in our industry and in the Screen Actor’s Guild, my parent union.”
    That is just the sentence that mentions SAG as being the parent union. To read it in its full context, please visit the link above.
    An article was published suggesting that there would be an AFTRA re-run election and candidacy was being made public as well as some rallying for support hence the reference to the election. If I am wrong on dates, please correct me.
    It appears that there may be some miscommunication within the union as it relates to how individual representatives or members convey messaging which may or may not be providing an unjust image of the union and its objectives, activities and policy. I’ve experienced similar miscommunications when conducting physical interviews that were recorded on paper verbatim that I’ve had to take down off of this blog because I was requested to do so by AFTRA representatives who would not stand behind what was said in person.
    While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, experiences and points of view, the fact is that there are many unclear messages being discussed with the public and members alike.
    Does the union have an official press representative? I’d be interested in speaking with them for an interview for publication and have a number of questions I would like to readdress.
    Thank you for reading this.
    Best wishes,

  • Lani Minella
    July 9, 2008, 7:17 pm

    Thank you everyone (you too Mr. Kraft) for sharing your thoughts and opinions. This will be my last reply, and please accept the tone of friendly camaraderie in which it was written.
    In response to #7. If unions responding the the “democratic process” is like how the electoral college elects the President instead of the popular vote, I still take issue with that voting process.
    #9. I believe agents had more issues than just the idea of being allowed to produce things. When you figure that many agents who don’t rep million dollar-a-booking stars, may not make enough off their talent to stay in business (VO only), I’m happy to give them opportunities to make more money if it means them staying afloat— giving me more work.
    #10. I’ve never had any client ask for FiCore. They either offer union work or non-union.
    #12. I have no problem paying my SS tax myself, and since most talent doesn’t make 100% of their survival income on union wages, I suspect they have to deal with personal taxes anyway. I agree that it is very convenient to have all the taxes taken out already, but again–the client has had to pay more at the onset and may be also hit for an increase in their unemployment insurance rates if a large number of W-2 actors hired file unemployment claims after doing one job. And yes, I state this knowing you’ve had to establish a base period to collect unemployment, but after you do that, you can indeed collect for doing a union job within your allowable collection period.
    #14. The story about having to appeal to your union to be let back in as full status —-well one or two years ago, I got a letter from the union saying they were granting amnesty or something and would let us rejoin without paying any penalty etc. Things change all the time.
    #21. “..negotiating contracts…that benefit you…” This is a matter of opinion. Hopefully, striking or making demands that portray us actors as too costly or difficult to deal with, won’t end up hurting everyone. There’s a point that solidarity needs to combine with common sense instead of a mission statement that was highly successful and needed when unions first came about. Labor unions are almost as old as America itself. The first national labor unions gained strength in the 1820s. During this time, workers banded together to reduce the working day from a grueling 12 hours to a more manageable 10 hours. All these things are great, but when you enter the world of creativity and so many different variables and needs, no matter how it may complicate contracts, times have changed and contracts need to reflect what is no longer as simplistic.
    And your statement:
    “Actors will always be exploited if they have no representation.”
    Gee what a positive outlook you have. 😉 Actors always have the right to negotiate, set their own standards and choose whether to work or not. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a large number of actors or voice artists find their own work–especially if they are relying on their acting careers to support them.
    We are all adult enough to be able to fend for ourselves and hopefully provide good talent for a reasonable rate. I am grateful for agents or the union for any help. But, take into consideration, people on this site or others which offer casting opportunities directly to actors……
    As far as I know, most of us aren’t processing these jobs through agents or the union, and we have a choice which jobs we take, how much to charge etc.
    The union is just like an agent in that they aren’t supposed to actively seek jobs for talents. Therefore the talent either has to wait for a casting notice or audition, or take matters into their own hands and drum up business.
    Hopefully we can all succeed and I do sincerely hope things work out to make the union a smooth running operation that benefits all parties involved.

  • Mike Kraft
    July 9, 2008, 10:24 pm

    Thanks Lani. It’s been a fun and enlightening exchange. I too hope that things work out to make the union a smooth running operation. And as I like to say, I hope everybody makes lots of money all the time.
    Good Luck, and stay away from Financial Core! It’s bad mojo!
    Mike Kraft

  • Mike Kraft
    July 9, 2008, 7:47 pm

    I understand the difficulty of parsing statements from individuals when it comes to understanding official AFTRA policy or activities. The discussions on your website with individual AFTRANS are just that: individual working union performers, with their own ideas and opinions, including my own.
    And as for a glossary of union lingo, I don’t know that one exists. But I would be happy to decipher anything at any time, to the best of my abilities. Just don’t ask me to translate from Membership Firsters. That’s a language I don’t understand. ;^)
    Again, thanks for providing the forum.
    Mike Kraft
    President, Cleveland AFTRA Local

  • Helene Weinberg
    July 9, 2008, 8:47 pm

    Thank you all for such an insightful and informative discussion regarding the Fi-Core issue. Mike Kraft, I would like to see your world-class article reprinted on line for anyone who has a question about Financial Core. (Perhaps pitch for a link on the AFTRA website…)
    As a 20 year AFTRA member and new to the Los Angeles market- I’ve been surprised at the requests for non-union/ Fi-Core work. Have I been tempted to take these jobs- especially when I really needed the money and no one would ever find out? Actually- not so much.
    Fi-Core was NEVER gonna be an option. Here’s just a few (phew) reasons:
    Although I don’t currently qualify for AFTRA’s Health Plan- for most of these years I did and may surely qualify again.
    And my AFTRA retirement earnings continue to accrue. Yes, an actual retirement plan that is going to pay me a nice check every single month.
    Plus I get the benefit of advertising in my local AFTRA Talent Guides
    (printed versions and on-line).
    I can attend free or low cost UNION only seminars, workshops, tradeshows, skills training.
    I can be elected to serve on the Executive Board and attend monthly board meetings that focus on creating more work opportunities for our members. I can attend the mandatory cocktail meetings that usually follow.
    I can be elected a Convention Delegate where I can witness and participate in a real democracy of elected officials and industry peers who are working together for the good of our 70,000 union brothers and sisters. I’ve had the honor of serving as a delegate for 5 conventions- and believe me, serving as a delegate is the education of a lifetime!
    NONE of those MAJOR BENEFITS and UNION PERKS would exist in Fi-Core Land.
    To me, the notion of FC feels like an unwanted house guest that eats your food, sleeps in your bed and refuses to bathe. A clingy, stinky, Slinky that can only slither in your shadow and eventually will slink (and sink) to the bottom.
    HEY SLINKIES OUT THERE- LISTEN UP: It’s better at the top of the stairs than the bottom rungs. Don’t take that first step down with FC. Don’t lower your standards or your industry status. Stand up for something bigger than just your ability to get around a loophole. A hole which will weaken your benefits, lower your rates, diminish our Solidarity and will ultimately make unhappy, low or no paid- hobbyists of us all.
    “Hey Helene, you wanna do a voice-over for us? Uhh, we don’t have a budget but we’ll feed you some (cold) pizza in exchange for your time and talent.” Yep, that seems fair.
    And in conclusion… no, I’m done.
    Helene Weinberg
    Hope to see you in Los Angeles at VOICE 08 in August!

  • Stephanie Ciccarelli
    July 10, 2008, 9:19 am

    Hi Denise and Mike,
    I appreciate hearing from you.
    Last year, I did interview a group of AFTRA representatives in Las Vegas at VOICE 2007, an interview for which Chris de Haan was present and was able to answer questions along with a couple other union representatives.
    I clearly identified myself as a member of the press and told them that I would be sharing the answers with my audience at VOX Daily who would be very interested in the answers, particularly those interested in joining the union.
    My notes are quite meticulous and within a day of publishing the interview I was asked to remove certain items, first to remove the AFTRA logo (which was removed per their request) and later that day, it was requested that the entire interview be taken down and removed from our servers with no justifiable reason, which we adhered out of respect in an effort to build up goodwill.
    If I were just interviewing Chris on his own, and not with the others present, perhaps I would have received straight answers that would have allowed the interview to stand on its own. I am willing to communicate with Chris for future inquiries.
    Thanks for reassuring me that communications should go through Chris on public relations issues.
    Best wishes,

  • Adela Bolet
    July 10, 2008, 10:28 am

    Dear Friends,
    Lani’s letter is the first clear and honest discussion I have ever seen posted anywhere. Thank you for the facts ( speciallly that hourly rate!).
    We all know that due to their respective histories and alliances, SAG and AFTRA will remain at odds, but the reality is that ” New Media” is where the market is really expanding, and neither of those organizations has much influence or say in that area (although some “Webisodes” –like a recent one I was in for the Onion Network –are AFTRA jobs). Nevertheless, for talent that is focused on traditional commercial work, union membership should be given major consideration. AFTRA fi-core works for me now because most of my multilingual VO production is non-union, but it sure helps to keep up with the current rates.

  • Arlene
    July 28, 2008, 3:30 am

    First I’d like to thank Lani for her article. It was very informative.
    I’ve been Taft-Hartley for both SAG and AFTRA for years, having won day player roles in projects in both unions’ jurisdictions. I have held off joining the unions for a number of reasons.
    The major reason is that there is no real incentive, in my opinion, to join. I knew there was a minimum dollar amount to be eligible for benefits but did not know it was as high as $15,000 and did not know that you had to pay premiums in addition to meeting that minimum. There just isn’t enough union work in Chicago to guarantee that most actors will meet that minimum, let alone be able to live off of union work. Also, it doesn’t seem that there is any effort by the unions to help their members secure work. Does SAG and/or AFTRA sponsor a job bank? What exactly do they do, other than negotiate the contracts, to help their members in between the coasts obtain enough work to not only meet those minimums but to live a half way decent life? Being able to put a roof over your head and eat are strong incentives to not join as a full member.
    I also have to say that, as the daughter of a Teamster and a cousin of a union organizer who gave his life in the 1920s while fighting for workers’ right, I am highly insulted and offended by the comment that anyone supporting Fi-Core is seeking the demise of the union. That is not the case. Rather, business as usual is no longer working for actors who are not in that 5% of union members who regularly make enough money to be eligible for the benefits. When SAG and AFTRA can increase that number to 85-90%, then we can talk.

  • Arlene
    July 28, 2008, 3:39 am

    I wanted to add one more thing regarding conflicts. I don’t know how it’s done in other areas, but in Chicago most agents seek limited buy-outs for non-union commercials. Product conflicts are as much of a concern for non-union work as union. This is done to protect the talent so they are in a position to book work in the future in the category. Just because something is non-union doesn’t mean that the basic business rules are thrown by the wayside.

  • Jeff B
    August 1, 2008, 3:27 pm

    Look, whether to go Fi-Core or remain fully SAG is something I have been grappling with for a while. I was working a ton as a non-union actor in the Boston area. I joined SAG and my opportunities became a black hole. Can’t land a union role if you don’t audition, right? Unlike last year when I was audition a half-dozen times per month and scoring quite often, I have had three auditions this year. THREE! (with two callbacks). Can’t make a living that way.
    And with regard to the remark about eating someone else’s food, Fi-Core members STILL pay union dues and pay a percent when getting union jobs. In areas where there isn’t much work, Fi-Core should be a perfectly acceptable way for actors to get work, make a living AND support the union nation-wide. As someone wrote, when 85 percent of the union is making enough to qualify for benefits, then we’ll talk.

  • bc
    August 11, 2008, 3:48 pm

    After reading this, I’m pretty set on going Fi-core. To sum up this conversation, all I’ve seen from the union side is rhetoric and scare tactics. way to go. sounds like the same old b.s.

  • John Matthew
    August 11, 2008, 9:08 pm

    There are good (and bad) arguments on both sides of this issue. But there is a larger and far more insidious problem here: like it or not, there are simply too many talent competing for work now – particularly since the advent of the internet and home recording – for the VO shop to remain closed and exceptionally well paid. And it is completely unrealistic to think the unions can organize all the labor and all productions.
    With more and more people competing for less space and fewer resources, the ugly reality is that every day your labor is worth less, and the things you need to live cost more, than they did the day before. And sooner or later, you gotta pay the Piper.
    So, I offer you no solutions, but just this advice: regardless of which side of the union/fi-core fence you’re on, be the best professional you can be. Be skilled, be relevant, and be versatile. If you are all those things, hopefully, you will continue to command a fair price for your work.
    Thank you, and good luck.

  • Owen Baker-Flynn
    August 29, 2008, 1:04 pm

    The unions, and I belong to SAG and AFTRA, just seem so unwilling to deal with member’s situations outside of Hollywood and NYC. Those would be the unions that supposedly represent us. AFTRA and SAG brag that their pension funds are 100% funded–well yeah, because not more than 5% of the members ever collect! I’d be 100% funded too if I didn’t have to pay my bills every month!

  • Bill Rapp
    October 28, 2008, 1:25 pm

    I began my acting career in March, 2006. I am now 66 years old, and have been doing ok. Joining SAG or AFTRA have been big considerations, as I have no retirement income other the social security. So I must work. Recently I was almost booked on an AFTRA project here in NYC, but when casting checked with AFTRA they found out, and to my dismay, that I became AFTRA “must join” almost 2 years ago. That meant that in order to work that day for $130, I would have to pay AFTRA a down payment on the initiation fee of $650. Pay $650 to earn $130??
    Even if I had the $650, I wouldn’t do it – would you – especially with no guarantee of AFTRA work to earn the $650, let alone the $1300? Can someone in AFTRA explain the logic to me?
    Bill Rapp

  • Talia
    December 22, 2008, 1:20 pm

    If you decide to go fi-core instead of joining AFTRA are you still able to join SAG later on? Also if you want to rejoin the AFTRA union at some point later in your career, when financially it makes sense to do so, what it the likelihood you will be denied?

  • Bill Rapp
    February 10, 2009, 12:23 pm

    I accidentally fell into an acting career in 2006, at the age of 64 & found my passion. I have begun working on a book, the working title is: “Acting in NYC for Beginners – Things I wish I knew when I was getting started.” I would like permission to included Lani’s blog & all the comments as a single chapter, as it is the most comprehensive information on FiCor I have ever seen, heard or read.

  • Luis
    March 4, 2009, 7:24 pm

    SAG should not look down upon members chosing to go Financail Core after moving to a right to work state such as Texas. I totally understand not doing that in CA where more jobs are present. But I get tired of going to auditions with non-Union talent over and over and they not having to join in order to do the job. I maxed out in CA and had to join. Going Fi-core would even the plain field and the best talent shall get the job. I mean have you looked at some of the resumes from these actors in right to work states? they have like 20 union commercials listed and are still non-Union. At least Fi-core we pay our dues and still get to work. Times are tough and going Fi-core should not be an issue. The Union should not be so nasty about it. I have read some of the things they say about Fi-core members and I am considering it because as much as I like to work, I hate bullies.

  • Jack Shaw
    March 29, 2009, 11:24 am

    Please understand SAG has never been AFTRA’s “parent union.

  • LC
    September 22, 2009, 11:25 pm

    There are too many comments so I only read a few. Also this article is pretty old now, so who knows if you still check comments.
    My comment is THANK YOU. Thank you for this article. It’s very hard to find frank info on the subject, especially since so many in the industry like to keep their status secret. I am not in the union because apparently working over 30 days on a union gig that had a small budget means I’m less of a professional than a person working 3 days as an extra on a big project. I highly disapprove of their eligibility requirements.
    I feel like the union is trying to keep people out, so it’s reassuring knowing that I have this as an option, should I chose to go this route to actually get work.
    you’ll notice I also didn’t leave my name, so I understand the weight of the decision and the stigma from union folks.
    This wouldn’t be an issue if they’d just let me in. Kind of makes me not respect them. And why would I care to be a part of something I can’t respect?
    I’m just starting out , so we’ll see.

  • AG
    November 26, 2009, 12:58 am

    Just one quick comment & one quick “Q”:
    THANK YOU for this blog, it was extremely informative, and I appreciate the fact that there could be a conversation between disagreeing parties that remained civil and polite. That is grately appreciated!
    My “Q”: I hope this isn’t a stupid question, but I ask it in all sincerity…..Does all the information given regarding union vs. Financial-Core pertain only to Voice-over work?

  • Ashlee
    January 2, 2010, 9:08 pm

    Question…I have decided to Financial core and I’m wondering if in the initial letter I send to the sag office that I should include my sag card, and how long until I can start submitting for non union jobs?

  • Bill
    January 28, 2010, 10:18 am

    I am considering becoming AFTRA ficore. The reason I am considering this, is because I would like to get into the voiceover world. But I am brand new to voiceovers. My roots are as an actor. I became AFTRA due to my acting. But, being AFTRA can really be a handicap to starting out in a new field such as voiceover. My desire is to work a bunch of nonunion voiceovers for maybe a year or two, and then go back to full membership. If AFTRA had a way of working with us on a more individual basis (like seeing that I want to be able to “start out” with some less competitive voiceovers), that would be different.
    Also, what is the penalty anyway for an AFTRA member doing nonunion work?

  • Julia
    April 28, 2010, 11:30 am

    People should have the freedom to choose the work they want, period. If people want to collectively bargain, I’m all for it. The problem with unions is that as a union member you are forced to support every cause of the union by refusing work if the union tells you to. To me you should be able to choose what you fight for.
    If SAG really cared about their actors, they would allow those who made under a certain amount of money to work non-union, which was something Charlton Heston was fighting for.
    I went fi-core for 3 reasons:
    1. I object having my money go to political causes that I’m against.
    2. I am a filmmaker first, and I help other filmmakers out on their films, who in turn have helped me on mine. Sometimes they’ve asked me to be an extra or needed to replace an actor last minute and I really didn’t like having to say “no” because I was union. So I felt that being union got in the way of my other goals.
    3. I simply believe that whom I work for is my choice.
    I would also like to add that as a filmmaker I’ve done both union and nonunion films. I found SAG to be totally ungrateful for my providing actors roles in my films. But, of course, I was supposed to be grateful to them.
    I’m always grateful for my actors, whether they are nonunion or union and I’ve treated them better than the SAG contract required me to. (Note these were very low budget so I didn’t have to pay the actors.) So I find it insulting when SAG puts down nonunion work in general. Sometimes we just don’t have the money or the time to go union. We’re just artists ourselves trying to work our craft. It doesn’t mean that we’re going exploit or disrespect our talent. If the actor doesn’t think my production meets their standards, they don’t have to do my film. But, overall, my actors have found me to be one of the best people to work for.

  • MCB
    April 30, 2010, 4:00 am

    This has been a very educational conversation. Thank you!
    I heard that in Canada, their “actors guild” allows all their members to work both sides of the fence at all times without making them feel like the unwanted step-children. They merely point out that when they “choose” to work a non-union job, they are on their own! When they “choose” to work a union job, they have the full benefit of being supported and protected by their union.
    Makes sense to me…personal choice and freedom, with the individual taking responsibility for their own actions. What a concept!

  • Martin Warner
    September 7, 2010, 6:22 pm

    Ran into a problem concerning Fi-Core. I am over 70 and earn less than 5K per year. SAG policy says I am dues exempt because of those two factors. Trouble is, if I go Fi-Core, SAG policy dictates that I will have to start paying dues again, less the small amount they deduct. To me, this feels like a punishment since I don’t have to pay if I don’t go Fi-Core. Have you any information on this. Do you have any members with the same situation and what have they done about it?

  • Martin Warner
    September 28, 2010, 10:19 pm

    Very disappointed that there wasn’t any one to comment on my last post. Remember, no guts, no glory!

  • Mary
    December 2, 2010, 6:19 pm

    Hi & thanks for this discussion. I’ve been a AFTRA & SAG member since 1986. There used to be so much union work in the San Francisco bay area where I am from. Now its turned mainly non-union. I live in LA now and am considering going Fi-Cor. I have always stood by my union and volunteered quite a bit over the years however I don’t feel that they are doing there part in trying to get back these productions that have gone non-union. I thought things would turn around but when you see the breakdowns, there’s more non-union than union. I have turned down work because it was non-union. Not going to do that anymore. Only 5% of union members even qualify for health insurance. Who’s helping the 95% of actors, not qualified, to attain work so they can get health insurance?! Most big union jobs want “Named Faces” well what about the “working actor.” Who’s helping us? I think Fi-Cor gives us a chance to work. Because that’s all an actor really wants to do… is work.
    Thank you,

  • cathleen mason
    January 27, 2011, 4:46 pm

    I hope this topic has not been covered already and I missed it.
    My question is this: If I am fi-Core SAG and I’m a fee paying non member yet no one needs to know about it and if I am on set I am considered SAG then, How do I represent myself? Do I say I am SAG fi-Core or not “not a member of SAG”? How can I be a non member yet when I am on set I am a member?

  • Sarita
    January 27, 2011, 5:16 pm

    Thanks Lani for posting this article, it’s now a few years old and I’m still not finding anything on the internet that is more current or with more information to shed light and clarity on the SAG vs. SAG FiCore argument.
    I appreciate so much how all sides of this have been represented in this forum. For the comments from Union, Non-union and Fi-core FeePayingNonMembers have all come together on this. This is the most informative link I’ve found.
    I went SAG FiCore in LA at the recommendation of a few different agents and after much evaluation of what I wanted to accomplish as actor. I spent several years with $0 being earned as an actor. I did do a lot of extra work but still was nowhere near earning the $15,000 minimum to qualify for health benefits. I found myself grappling with being in a position of being a part of union that would look down on me to get non-union work to become a more experienced actor yet would not hire me for union work because I was not experienced enough. So, in order to increase work opportunities as an actor, I elected to go FiCore.
    There are many arguments for holding strong to the union and how going FiCore may contribute to the demise of union and how we’ll all suffer however the unions have not kept up with the current state of the entertainment industry nor does the inherit structure of the unions support work for the actor as an individual. If the union was keeping up with the evolving Entertainment Industry, everything would be different with new media. Furthermore it does not make sense that the few union members who are making millions of dollars have cap on the percentage they pay towards their dues for the Union, whereas those who claim $0 income from SAG work still have a minimum dollar about of around $60 (roughly) to pay. Where’s the logic in a rule that obviously demands money from those who have none and then gives a break to those who have earned millions? If this is truly a union to support the actor as individuals and collective a more equitable resolution would be made.
    The minimum $15,000 amount to qualify for health benefits is another way the union is showing that it caters to those who are earning significant amount of income from acting and simultaneously greedily sucking money from those who don’t even qualify for benefits.
    All an actor wants to do is work as an actor. That’s it. It’s really not that complicated and until the unions actually facilitate and support the careers of actors as individuals regardless of what level they are at…then it’s simply a very massive group where 5% of the people at the top are reaping the benefits and 95% at the bottom are scraping together what they can through blood sweat and tears to keep the group together.
    I’m sure this argument will go on and as the unions weaken, blame will be put on those who have declared FiCore as opposed to the union itself for not resolving issues, taking care of its members, making it a more equitable union and making it easier for producers/directors to work with the union.
    The large SAG building in Hollywood is a testament to how the union just wants to keep its presence alive and is more concerned with its own power as opposed to the individual. If the union really cared about the individual actor, every actor would have health care benefits and the union might operate out of a less fancy building and the union would support actors simply working as actors and not belabor the argument of who is true to the union versus who is a traitor. The arguments would be reflective of the art and the artist and not the business of keeping union afloat.

  • A formerly Working Actor
    April 8, 2011, 7:45 pm

    I joined SAG in 1982 and began making a living as an actor in 1984. You’ve seen my work. I guarantee it. My film and t.v. career hit a brick wall, like many others before me, around 1997, but I was able to start a nice voice over career a couple of years later. (The Film/TV career just stopped, by the way. I didn’t have the pleasure of ruining it by being a degenerate drug addict or drunkard… drag!)
    I’ve never done a non-union film. Not because of any “moral” reason, but when I was working a lot, non-union stuff was awful.
    I’ve always acted and directed in equity/waiver theater in L.A. and found it actually insulting when they started making producers pay the actors $7/performance. Ridiculous. But that’s another rant.
    Since the crash in 2007, union VO work dried up. I started a family a few years back and I no longer earn enough as an actor to qualify for the insurance. Since I’m vested, my minimum is lower, but it’s been a very, very dry few years and I still don’t make the minimum. Residuals and an odd gig from a friend or something like that would get me up there. No more…
    Fortunately for me, along the way I picked up some other skills that keep me from having to do something awful like wait tables (a fine job, but not for someone pushing 50) but, like many other companies, my employers benefits are not so good. I now shell out $750/month for insurance through SAG where before, when I was earning the minimum, I was paying around $1500/year.
    Back in the day, SAG insurance was GREAT. It was “Free”, which was why it’s not anymore. I had friends going to “doctors” who would write a “prescription” for “physical therapy”. The physical therapy was actually a private, personal trainer. That personal trainer would JUST HAPPEN to have a gym RIGHT AT THE CHIROPRACTORS’ OFFICE! How convenient. The “doctor” would also write a “prescription” for a massage.
    Then SAG insurance began covering “alternative medicine” (alternative TO medicine”) acupuncture, nutritionists, ;life counselors and things like that.
    Then what happened? First, the earnings qualification minimum went up. Then, we had to pay for the insurance. The minimum and the rates both kept on rising… and they continue to rise.
    I’m not naive enough to think it’s just the abuse. Obviously; there are plenty of other factors contributing and, depending on your politics and worldview, there are other things to point at to explain the costs.
    I seem to have gone off on a tangent!
    In my nearly 30 years of being in “the biz” no employer, agent, casting director… anyone, ever asked to see my SAG card. I even stopped carrying it in my wallet to save space so long ago I cant even remember when it was!
    I actually know many of the SAG officers, and I’m here to tell you, they are your average, run-of-the-mill, actor. Not so bright, lead by emotion and superstition and very nice to look at. Which is a fine way to live when you’re on a series or 1-6 on the call sheet of a feature, but not when you’re an officer of a union. If you’ve ever been to a union meeting during a strike or a run-up to a strike, you have seen some performances worthy of Academy Awards.
    That’s why I’ve never voted in the elections. I never read the propaganda they send out other than to shake my head or laugh.
    There is no reason to be a member of SAG.
    Residuals are nice, but they’re not going to be around much longer. That is the only thing a SAG job guarantees anymore… Well…
    Many years ago, I had a claim against a major studio for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of residuals. Guess who SAG sided with? They did not want to get on the wrong side of the studio and, instead, threw me and the other actor I had the claim with, to the lions.
    That happened over 15 years ago, so it is not the reason I’m going fi-core, but it is to give you an example of the “power” that SAG wields. About this much above none. The power it does wield is over actors. And that’s not saying much. Everyone has more power than an actor.
    Except during that magical time between “action” and “cut”. And no-one can touch that time. That time belongs to us, regardless of whether or not we are a union member, a client of CAA or a new guy representing ourselves, right? It’s the best, which is why we put up with all of the other horrors. We are the ones the camera is pointing at. Not the lawyer, the agent, the producer. At that moment, we are indispensable. That is the only time that we can not be replaced.
    I’ve never gone fi-core. I’d never heard of it until two years ago. One of the reasons against fi-core, according to the SAG web site is:
    “Fi-Core/FPNM are viewed as scabs or anti-union by SAG members, directors, and writers—most of whom also belong to entertainment unions.”
    …which is a very effective argument for actors: one of the things we care most about is what other people think of us. Heavens forbid that someone thinks less of us!
    But, I don’t care…
    Not true… at all: I do. Which is why I’m not signing my name to this. I know actors who think they believe that I’m evil if I go Fi-Core.
    Sorry for my rambling. I just needed to get some of this off my chest.
    I mislead you a bit earlier. Because of one of the relationships I formed during the hey-dey of my career, I have, in fact, recently begun a recurring role on a SAG television show. I will *probably* make the insurance minimum this year, but I know better now than to think that, at my age, I’m going to continue to work. I’ve worked out a deal with my employer so I can come in on weekends and do what I need to do.
    But… I’ve copied this and will attach it to my letter to SAG informing them of my decision to go fi-core.

  • Sheryl
    June 21, 2011, 7:31 pm

    What about FiCore and Actors Equity? I filed FiCore in 2004 as avery disgruntled AEA member living in a right to work state. Now I am living in NYC and curious about the restrictions.
    I read somewhere that AEA no longer recognizes FiCore. Everyone on this blog seems si informed. Can you answer?

  • Frank
    August 12, 2011, 2:09 am

    I’m contemplating going Fi-Core. If I do, here’s the letter I would send to SAG. Do any of you union “lefties” have a problem with this?
    I have been an active, dues paying member of SAG and AFTRA for over fifty years. I’m now 79 and confronted by the fact that union job opportunities for actors my age and ethnicity are rapidly diminishing. I haven’t had a union job in over three years despite being represented by a franchised agent. Auditions are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Yet during these past three years I’ve had opportunities to work in an expanding number of non-union jobs, both theatrical and commercial. Yes, the compensations are often less than union minimums, but work is work and at my advancing age I don’t have that much time left.
    Consequently, please accept this letter as an official request for financial core status to qualify me for both union and non-union employment as defined in the series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, culminating in CWA v. BECK. Please recalculate my financial core dues amount owed within the existing Screen Actors Guild policy and NLRB guidelines.

  • Emmett Fitzsimmons
    December 17, 2011, 9:43 am

    My experience is different then yours. I was Fi-Core for 18 months and found the decision to go Fi-Core a disaster. I’ll make my experience brief. Number one, everyone was trying to beat me up on my rate. I found I was fighting to get a rate that was less the 1/2 of the Union rate.
    Number 2, EVERYONE knew I was Fi-Core..EVERYONE!!!! Number 3, My NY Agent treated me like I had two heads. Number 4, CD’s that I work with a lot, in NY and Florida…ALL of them told me I was crazy!!! Even my Agents in the South in “Right to Slave States” told me I was crazy…Consider; almost everyone on the professional level in the business is a member of a Union. Even the Grips know your fi-Core. I do not believe for a second that no one knows. If your a “Star” the rules are different.
    That’s my experience. I rejoined SAG and am happy I did.

  • Willie Kalka
    February 20, 2012, 5:33 am

    Those ARE the words and they only get worse from there.

    April 3, 2012, 11:37 am

    1. I’m FICORE
    2. Why wouldn’t the now merged union start all new members (without much work if any behind them) as FICORE!! Once established and earning a living wage, they should be welcomed into the ‘fold’ and afforded not just voting / serving in office rights, but some other real benefit that entice full membership! If they never ‘make it’ but work now and then, the FICORE status remains and dues keep rolling in.
    3. There’s tons of non-union work out there and SAG-AFTRA better adapt. It should be looking at ways to get a piece of the entire pie by fostering FICORE as entry level option.

  • Caron Strong
    December 6, 2012, 4:49 pm

    Marty Warner, I’m curious if you ever got an answer… We miss you in LA!
    I’m considering going FiCor for a number of reasons. I’m weighing my decision very carefully and appreciate this article and all the detailed commentaries.
    Caron Strong

  • Clady
    April 9, 2013, 8:27 pm

    Has anyone been fi-core than told to go sag? I’m looking into theatrical agents and they’re telling me to go sag, and that I absolutely have to. I was strictly a commercial actor so I’ve never had to deal with the theatrical side. If someone has dealt with this were they charged additional fees to go sag after being ficore? I’ve been calling sag and they never call back! Gotta make a trip to their offices.
    Any info is fantastic!

  • newly fi-core
    July 3, 2013, 5:00 pm

    Yes, I went fi-core early this year. I recently met with an NYC legit agent who was ready to sign me but dropped me like a hot potato upon learning I was fi-core. Agent said I had no chance of working union jobs in this city as long as I was fi-core. Fi-core proponents tell me a different story, how fi-core actors work union jobs all the time and agents have no problem with it. I wish/hope that to be the case. But I’m a little terrified, because so far that is not proving to be the case for me. Yes, one could generally keep one’s fi-core status under wraps (according to SAG-AFTRA rep I talked to on phone, an actor is simply ok’d or not ok’d depending on dues payment–producers don’t find out one’s membership status), but it’s almost impossible to keep that status from your agent—-at least if you ever plan to do a nonunion job again.
    Can anyone else chime in, who has had similar experiences with agents, or who has, happily, NOT had this experience with legit agents in NYC or LA? And if you are ficore and “working all the time,” are you actually working A-list union jobs–union TV guest stars, theatrically-released films, etc.? I desperately called SAG several times after the agent meeting, begging for reinstatement, but none of my calls were returned. Right now, after a few weeks have passed, I’m not sure whether I’d want to be reinstated or not. Especially if it’ll cost $3600. I’m practically making a living doing nonunion work. But then again, the idea of Tier 1 jobs possibly being out of my reach forever because I can’t get a good rep is agonizing.
    –Newly fi-core

  • Heidi
    October 26, 2013, 6:34 pm

    Newly Fi-Core and all,
    I’ve been agonizing over the decision to be Fi-Core or keep my SAG-AFTRA status as I’ve been a member of the union for ten years (pre-merge) and have been very happy overall – but I lived in NY. Now, recently married, I’m living in Ohio for my husband, who freelances and makes a (barely modest) living in Entertainment production. He has two kids from a previous marriage, and not at all content with having to live here, but wants to be with them at least until they’re off to college. I’m finding it very difficult to earn a living here, let alone find a decent paying job with little experience anywhere else. It took me years to initially get into the union and then working for years earning a modest living myself between performer earnings and part-time work in NY. I recently signed with one of the big agencies here (there are only two in the city), and 90 percent of the work they get in is non-union. I’ve been agonizing over whether or not to go Fi-Core as it seems I’ll be here for the next 6 years and unsure where we will end up after the fact. I’m so appreciative of this blog and all the information from opposite ends as the unions are strong armed, and cryptic about the information they offer on the subject. I understand both sides, and by no means have any other motives but to simply make a living in the field that I am most talented in and put so much time, work, and sacrificed so many years of my life for. Since I don’t know where I’ll end up in the next 6 years – in NY or back in LA, I don’t want to give up my status completely for what took me so long to earn. Nor do I think it right of the union to penalize those for trying to earn a living if they happen to live in a state where opportunities are so few. I’m very curious to hear from someone regarding the process to get back into the union and what that’s actually like. However, after being treated with such disdain and being so unconcerned for each individual’s case, it’s makes me question why to ever even want to go back. To the Newly Fi-Core poster, it saddens me to hear that this agency wouldn’t sign you due to your Fi-Core status. I was also curious to know of any Fi-Core members who actually have no problem working Tier1 jobs. Are they any? It would seem as though the union would resort to using mob like tactics to scare Agents away from providing Fi-Core members from representation. Hopefully, there are other agencies in NY that don’t play that bully game. Thoughts? Comments?

  • jerry
    January 12, 2014, 9:57 am

    i am in new york currently although i reside full time in texas, a right to work state, about to audition for a non union feature….i have been sag and aftra, aftra being my parent union since 1971 when i worked in broadcasting in new england for the boston local….i joined sag in 1981….i am now drawing my pension from both as well as a small one from equity….in addition, i have just enrolled in the new earned senior’s insurance for my wife and me….cheapest rates around….even cheaper than my wife’s teacher retirement coverage…..the current audition i am on has specified non union or sag-e only (what is that?)….should i even mention i am union?….at this point, the producer has no idea i am …..does my permanent residence have any bearing, being a right to work state?….if asked my union status or should my membership be checked into should i immediately go fi-core?….what is the potential damage to my small pension from both sag and aftra and could i lose my insurance if this blows up in my face?….any help would be greatly appreciated….thanks….jerry

  • NC
    August 22, 2014, 11:14 pm

    Hi Everyone !
    This is been very informative .. I’m thankful Lani stared this conversation, and also thanks every one for their personal input… postings from long time ago but still is relevant today.
    Unfortunately no one answered Jerry’s question 🙁 and I have the same issue. I’m considering going Fi-Core but I don’t know if being FiCore will prevent me from getting the health insurance -in the case I qualify for it (making the required $15000/year from union work). .. if it is true and FiCore people can’t get the SAG and/or AFTRA insurance and pension (after making the required amount) then, basically, paying dues will be just to have the right to work as union member with out being in the union.. right?
    Thanks .. Natalia

  • David
    September 27, 2014, 1:53 pm

    For me, the issue is very simple:
    SAG needs a scapegoat.
    The union reps arrogantly and childishly dropped the ball in their negotiations
    with Signatory producers.
    The direct result was an onslaught of Union to Non-Union transfers of job opportunities.
    Now they need someone to blame for the fact that there are less Union jobs and, as a result,
    less Union work for the 95%ers.
    Who better to blame than those of us who are trying to find personal solutions as
    a means to survive.
    SAG dug the hole. Now they are punishing FiCore Members for trying to pull themselves out of it.
    Los Angeles

  • Lani Minella (@LaniMinella)
    February 8, 2015, 5:38 pm

    While my original article is now outdated with rates going up again, I want to add a few choice observations. First of all, I spoke to someone who was FiCore, then when the unions merged, she found out they made her full union without telling her. She enjoys her free movie tix, and thinks she has an excuse if she ever does non union work…to pretend she didn’t realize what happened.
    Secondly-there are no union franchised agencies unless they choose to be. That means if you find an agent who puts the bad juju on you because you are FiCore, consider them clueless and get another agent.
    Any union job station 12s you before you work on the job. That means your SS# or EIN# or Union Member # gets sent in and the results will come back saying “Ok” “Taft-Hartley” “NR”-meaning no report–they have nothing on record. or “Must Join”
    They will NEVER EVER say FiCore because the union doesn’t want anyone to know how many people have made the wise decision to go that route.
    Third: Why would you ever have to rejoin as union only when, As FiCore, you can work on both union and non union jobs without any loss. You get H & R and all union residuals if applicable for all your union work and all the money you earn on union jobs is still applied to qualifying you to buy their health insurance.
    Lastly—The union doesn’t make life easy for clients hiring you for union work. Just going through a payroll company really can add quite a fee. One well established LA payroll company was charging $150 to write a $400 check and $250 to write an $825 check on top of all the other charges. As a consequence, the client decided they would pay talent themselves from their own payroll dept, and this required all people working on the job to be in California since the company was in California.
    You don’t have to write any long letter to go FiCore. You simply write, “as of this date, I am going Financial Core. Please reflect my dues accordingly” Of course you won’t save anything on dues, but that is all you need. Then they try to call you up and tell you how costly this could be should you ever want to rejoin and they’d have to decide if they’d let you. Come on people! if you can work perfectly both union and non union jobs, why would you ever NEED to rejoin as union only?
    So you can get free movie tickets, attend somewhat useless conservatory classes and be on a board? Well good. Then that’s for you. But remember union members……….even your votes do not count. It’s the board that decides what’s right for you.
    As FiCore, you are a dues paying non member. How is that even “legal”
    Just know that Financial Core is the way many more people are going and I don’t know anyone complaining about it.
    Hope this helps and I wish everyone continued success both union and non.

  • newly-ficore
    July 28, 2015, 10:36 am

    The agent I referred to above who refused to sign me because I had just gone ficore, I noticed later, sends her talent out for non-union jobs as well as union jobs. Herein lies the HYPOCRISY of agents and casting directors who discriminate against FiCore actors. Some CDs and agents happily earn $$ off of non-union projects, yet these same CDs and agencies preach that actors should not go FiCore because it weakens SAG-AFTRA. So THEY can have their cake and eat it too, making $$ on both union and non-union gigs, yet they stigmatize actors who want to do the same thing. Hell, my commercial agency even created a subsidiary agency with a different name from their franchised agency to handle all the non-union work! And apparently this is not an uncommon practice for agencies. How is that different from, for example, a SAG-AFTRA actor, having one identity on IMDB for union work, and another identity for non-union work?? It’s not!!

  • Mike Bloodworth
    June 4, 2017, 9:21 pm

    I guess the real bottom line is even a little non-union work is better than NO work union. I got my SAG card doing extra work, in the mid 90’s. Then, along came “reality TV” and runaway production. My jobs virtually disappeared. I had to go on “Honorable withdrawal.” (Not the same thing; I know)
    Since I had started out in radio and doing voice work, I thought maybe I could try getting back into that. But a similar situation exists here. Not enough union jobs to go around. I have friends that are Financial Core. Its the only way they can make a living doing voice work. The arguments about health insurance and pensions have some validity, however as stated in previous comments, you only get those benefits IF you work. That’s why I’m so strongly considering going Financial Core.
    As I said in the beginning, SOME income from non-union work is looking exponentially preferable to virtually NO work as a union member.

  • Kenny
    September 1, 2018, 5:14 pm

    Does going Fi-Core effect ones ability to go to equity audition calls?

  • Geena
    September 19, 2018, 12:20 pm

    Actors in Los Angeles do not seem to know that the camera people they work with – the Local 600 IATSE members, who also work in film & TV – are allowed by their union to do BOTH union and non-union work. IATSE understands that its members need to work and that the industry is very competitive. SAG should loosen up, work with IATSE and do the same. There is no shame in working.

  • Eric K
    April 12, 2019, 11:26 am

    After having been die-hard union supporters for many years, by wife and I both declared our FiCore status, with both SAG and AFTRA, some 14 years ago, shortly after my wife had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer, and knowing that the availability of union work in our local Philadelphia market had grown increasingly limited, and probably amounts to less than 5-10% of available bookings here. (Previously based in NYC, and then Chicago, both strong union towns, for 20 years, Philly has been our home since 2003). It was not an easy decision, for either of us, as we’d both earned our union cards years earlier, and had been strong union supporters, even though a local casting director had encouraged me to declare our FiCore status, shortly after we’d relocated from Chicago to Philly.

    We’re both fortunate enough to be able to claim that we are, and have long been, working, professional actors, and, though we both also now serve as adjunct acting teachers at a local university, ACTING, whether onstage, on-camera, or VO, has long been our primary source of income. The severe lack of union work, locally, combined with the ever-increasing earnings minimums for union health insurance eligibility, were really the primary factors in our decision to go FiCore.

    Our FiCore status has never really been an issue for either of us. We both have pension earnings (I’m actually vested in all 3 plans, SAG, AFTRA, and AEA), have since managed to earn health coverage, for limited periods, and continue to receive residuals, whenever and wherever they’re earned. More importantly, though, during my wife’s treatments, it enabled us to not only our meet our regular living expenses, but also to pay her mounting medical bills, as well, which kept us from going bankrupt. All in all, it was clearly the right move for us, at the time, and we’ve never really seen any need to try and reinstate full union membership again.

    This post is now almost 10 years old. However, I see that there are people who still occasionally comment on it, and perhaps read the new comments, so I have a FiCore issue/question that I’d like to put out there, hoping that someone on this page’s viewership-at-large might be able to answer for me:

    Our current agent features separate pages on the agency’s website for Male and Female Talent, both Union and Non-Union. Originally, when creating the agency site, FiCore talent were simply listed on both the Union and the Non-Union pages, but, apparently after some SAG-AFTRA members had discovered this fact, and complained to the union about it ( because, ‘technically speaking’, we are considered by the union to be ‘Dues Paying Non-Members’, and, therefore, cannot, ‘technically’, claim full union membership), the union undertook an effort to force agencies across the country to remove all FiCore talent from their Union rosters — in the process, implying that their union franchises might be pulled from agencies that didn’t comply.

    However, since FiCore status, and the ability of agents to discuss such status with any and all talent, is perfectly legal, and is protected by Labor Relations Law, might not the creation of separate FiCore Talent webpages be both legal and protected as well? While I certainly understand why the union would want to prevent FiCore talent from being promoted as ‘Union’ talent (even though, if we remain in good standing, in terms of our bi-annual dues payments, we’re just as eligible as full SAG-AFTRA members to work under any and all union contracts), how could SAG-AFTRA possibly prohibit an agency from fully promoting their represented talent for any and all work for which they might be eligible, be it either Union or Non-Union?

    If anyone out there has had any personal experience with this issue, or thinks that they may be able to share some knowledgeable, legal info about it, I’d certainly be happy to hear from you!