Actor Unions 

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  • Actor Unions 

    Here are some basic facts about the main actor unions inside the United States

    (By Javier Guerra)

    Do you know why SAG merged with AFTRA? Do you know why Actors’ Equity Association was created? Do you know how labor unions benefit actors? Do you know how to join an actor union?

  • Here are some basic facts about the main actor unions inside the United States that you might not know:

    What do the acronyms mean? 

    Inside the United States there are two main unions for actors: SAG-AFTRA and Actors’ Equity Association.

    SAG stands for the Screen Actors Guild

    AFTRA stands for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists

    AEA stands for the Actors’ Equity Association

    Outside the United States, there are other powerful actor unions, including:

    The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists

    Canadian Actors’ Equity Association

    British Actors’ Equity Association, now known simply as Equity.

  • Why did the actor unions form? 

    Unions, in general, are formed by a coalition of workers to negotiate the terms of a range of issues affecting those workers, including working conditions, pay and benefits. Actor unions are no different. However, each union formed to address the needs of particular segments of the entertainment business.

    Actors’ Equity Association
    Actors’ Equity Association is the oldest major actors’ union in the United States. It was founded in 1913, working on behalf of stage actors and managers.

    Screen Actors Guild formed in 1933 to protect and defend actors from what was perceived as exploitation by major studios in Hollywood.

    The union that eventually became known as AFTRA was formed in 1937, after supplanting the Radio Equity and Radio Actors Guild to become the American Federation of Radio Artists (AFRA), and then merging with the Television Authority in 1952.

  • Why did SAG merge with AFTRA? 

    On March 30, 2012, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) merged. The merger was formed, in part, as a way to ease the conflict and confusion for actors who, for example, might have qualified for benefits under one union but not the other.


    It also removed the need for the two unions to make adversarial decisions against one another. The merger of the two unions created the largest actors’ union in the US.

    How many members are in each union? 

    SAG-AFTRA now boasts a total membership of over 160,000 members, which includes actors, broadcast journalists, dancers and voice-over artists.

    Actors’ Equity Association boasts a total membership of over 51,000 stage actors and managers.

  • How do you join SAG-AFTRA? 

    1.  Actors can join by working as a principal performer in a project that is covered under a SAG-AFTRA agreement.

    2. Actors may join SAG-AFTRA if they secured employment with affiliated unions, such as AEA.

    3.  Actors who work as background actors (extras) may join by working at least three days on a union contract in a project that is covered by SAG-AFTRA.

    How do you join AEA? 

    1.  Actors may join by working on a project that is covered under an Equity contract.

    2. Actors can use theatrical work as credit towards joining the union under the Equity Membership Candidate Program (EMC), by working a minimum of 25 weeks in participating theatres.

    3. Actors can buy their way in if they are members of an affiliated union, such as SAG-AFTRA, provided they have worked as principals, are in good standing with the affiliated union, and have been members of the affiliated union for at least one year.

  • What are some benefits to joining an actors’ union? 

    Actor unions work on behalf of actors to address a host of different issues, including:

    1.  Negotiated pay rates

    2. Ensuring proper lunch breaks and overtime pay

    3. Ensuring safe work environments

    4. Health, pension and 401K benefits

    5. Dispute resolution

    6. Work and educational opportunities

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