An Actors’ Guide to Hollywood Unions

If you work in the Hollywood entertainment industry as a performer, crewmember, or even a hair stylist, you are probably in a labor union – or at least well aware of them. SAG, AFTRA, WGA, CSA, ACE – Hollywood has so many acronyms it can make anyone’s head spin. However, if you are an actor, there are three unions that you should definitely be aware of.

AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists)

AFTRA is the easiest of the three unions to join. It is an open union, which means that all you have to do is pay an initial fee to become a member. If you have the money, and don’t want to wait around to become eligible for SAG or AEA, joining AFTRA could be a great way to gain instant union status, as well as adding an extra credential to your resume. Being in AFTRA will also afford you the privileges of all good labor unions (health and retirement benefits, negotiated contracts and wages, and special opportunities to help further your career, to name a few). Considering that most televised projects utilize AFTRA contracts, being a member could also help better your chances of landing that first TV job.

AEA (Actors’ Equity Association)

If you are at all interested in doing live theatre and musicals, joining AEA is a definite must. Like the other work unions, AEA provides such benefits as healthcare and negotiated wages for its members. Joining, like most other unions, can be a bit tricky as there are multiple avenues to become eligible. One way to join is through their point system. With this method, one earns ‘points’ by working official AEA jobs. Once you have enough points, you can join (assuming you meet all their other requirements).

SAG (Screen Actors’ Guild)

The Screen Actors Guild is one of the, if not, most distinguished performers’ unions in the world, and joining should be on every actors’ to-do list. Membership benefits are similar to the above-mentioned unions, however SAG maintains its notoriety due to its predominant jurisdiction in the realm of feature films. SAG contracts are also utilized in television, internet, and new media projects – which only further extends its influence. How to become a member also varies, and one can become eligible by working as a principle performer on a SAG project (under specific requirements), or by earning SAG vouchers as a background actor (you need 3 vouchers to become eligible). No matter how you choose to join, being a member of SAG will only enhance your career and provide you with further guidance and opportunities.

I’m Still Confused…

Still confused about any of these unions, or how to join them? Don’t worry – you’re in the same boat as a lot of other people. Comprehensive information, including membership benefits and rules of joining, can all be found on each union’s respective websites. You can also call their offices with any lingering questions you might have. Whether you want to be on Broadway or the big screen, joining a union will help ensure that your rights as a performer are protected, as well as helping to propel your career forward.

Union Websites:




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One Comment

  1. Andrea McArdle
    Posted January 4, 2012 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    Question: which union has the better health insurance:SAG or AEA. i’m recently divorced and will be going on COBRA. I was previously covered by my Ex’s SAG policy but my main union is AEA and I will have to choose one or the other. Can you give me some guidance besides telling me to compare both health plans. The plans are over 100 pages long and I’m not familiar with following either plan because I relied on my Ex’s secretary handling all previous claims.


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